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By Steve Keating
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Germany's Angelique Kerber began her reign as world number one in imperious style battling past a determined Karolina Pliskova 6-3 4-6 6-4 to win the U.S. Open final on Saturday and claim her second grand slam title of the year.
Kerber, who officially takes over from Serena Williams as the world's top ranked player on Monday, underlined her number one status displaying the heart of a champion as she fought off a fierce challenge from Czech 10th seed Pliskova on a steamy afternoon at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
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The 28-year-old began the grand slam year beating Serena Williams to lift the Australian Open title and celebrated again on Saturday when she became the first German to win the U.S. Open in 20 years.
Kerber recovered from a break down in the third set, pouncing on her wilting opponent with two breaks in the third set to end a compelling, high-quality battle of attrition that stretched for two hours and seven minutes.
"It’s just amazing," a beaming Kerber, told an adoring crowd after being handed the winner's cheque of $3.5 million. "I won my second grand slam in one year. That’s the best of my career.
"Actually just incredible.
"When I was a kid I was always dreaming to be the number one player in the world and win grand slams and today is the day I won my second grand slam here, especially in New York. I’m the number one player on Monday.
"All the dreams came true this year."
Pliskova, who arrived at Flushing Meadows with a reputation of grand slam under-achiever having never before been beyond the third round of the major, shed that label by making it all the way to the final and taking on back-to-back world number ones.
After beating top ranked Serena Williams in the semi-finals to end the American's record-equalling 186 consecutive weeks stay at the top of the rankings, the big-hitting Pliskova, who has led the WTA Tour in aces the last two season, attacked her successor in the final but could not break down the tireless German's defense.
"You cannot compare those two (Serena Williams and Kerber)," explained Pliskova. "The game is totally different. The persons
as well. Serena is going for every shot.
"With Angie, you cannot wait for mistakes. She doesn't give you anything. I have to be the one who is aggressive.
"I beat very good players. It was always my goal to pass the third round and I made it to the final."
Kerber admires compatriot Steffi Graf, but is blazing her own trail.
Comparisons, though, are inevitable after Kerber became the first German to win the U.S. Open since Graf claimed the last of her five Flushing Meadows crowns in 1996.
"She was always my idol and I told her so many times," said Kerber, adding that Graf had sent her a text wishing her luck. "For me it's really important to go on my own way."
The match opened with Kerber breaking a jittery Pliskova and ended the same way, though for most part it was a very even contest.
Kerber's loss of the second set was the first time the entire championship that she had dropped a set.
But she fought back in the third set and wore down the towering Czech, who started to wilt in the punishing conditions, hunching over her racket at the end of almost every point.
Kerber, sensing an opening, stepped up the pressure and pace getting triple break point at 5-4 and closed out the contest on the first match point.
"I think I was just believing in myself in the third set and just going for it," said Kerber.
"I think that was the key at the end of the third set, that I was trying to take the chance, just go for it."
(Editing by Andrew Both)