Uh oh!: Angelique Kerber falls in straight sets at United Cup to Jasmine Paolini

Kerber, in her first match since giving birth to her daughter in 2023, played well but could not overcome Paolini who battled cramps
2024 United Cup - Sydney: Day 1
2024 United Cup - Sydney: Day 1 / Andy Cheung/GettyImages

After a year and a half away from the WTA Tour for pregnancy and childbirth, former World No. 1 Angelique Kerber returned to the court to represent Team Germany in the United Cup. Kerber's first opponent was a tough one, Italian Jasmine Paolini, Paolini, 27, has been slowly climbing the rankings and is in the Top 30 to begin the 2024 season.

Paolini won the highly competitive match 6-4, 7-5 in 1 hour and 48 minutes. She battled cramps and had a greater sense of urgency to close it out in straight sets, winning the final two games of the match to seal the victory.

Kerber, who will celebrate her 36th birthday at the Australian Open on January 18, possessed the fitness and trademark forehand that helped her win three Grand Slams and achieve the World No. 1 ranking in September 2016.

Angelique Kerber looked fit and prepared at the United Cup

While she lacks match play, Kerber still has the tools and a love for the game. Paolini noted in the post-match interview that Kerber was "amazing" after the long layoff.

Kerber returns to a game that has changed a lot since she last played in August 2022. The youth movement is in force with the recent Grand Slam champions, Coco Gauff, Marketa Vondrousova, Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, and Elena Rybakina being 25 years of age or under and in the case of Gauff, a teenager at 19.

In a highly competitive field, can Kerber still compete in Grand Slams? She thinks she can which is the reason for her comeback. Though her first match was not a winning one, she remains a solid player with a tricky left-handed serve like Petra Kvitova and Vondrousova that is tough for players to read.

Kerber previously said the comeback "will probably be the biggest challenge of my career, but that spurs me on." She is expected to play at the Australian Open with a protected ranking of No. 31.

Read more from Lob and Smash