NEW YORK -- Angelique Kerber earned the No. 1 ranking before she stepped on court, then she went out and looked like a top-ranked player.
Kerber has reached her third major final of the year after dispatching Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets at the US Open. The German won the first four games en route to a 6-4, 6-3 victory that set up a rematch with Karolina Pliskova, who denied Kerber the No. 1 ranking a few weeks ago at the Cincinnati Open final.
At the start of 2016, Kerber had never made a Grand Slam final. She could end the year as a two-time major champ.
In January, she advanced to the Australian Open title match and beat Serena Williams. Kerber also played for the championship at Wimbledon; however, she lost to Williams.
At 28, Kerber is the oldest woman to reach No. 1 for the first time, and she's the first German to do so since her idol and mentor, Steffi Graf.
Kerber would have overtaken Williams for the top spot had she defeated Pliskova in the Cincinnati Open final Aug. 21. Instead, Pliskova won that day for a breakthrough title and has been riding the momentum ever since.
"After that, I was just telling myself, 'OK, I will get one more chance,' " Kerber said. "Now after I can relax a little bit and try to enjoy this special night today."
Pliskova upset a hobbled Williams in the first semifinal Thursday, which clinched No. 1 for Kerber, who was doing all she could not to think about ascending to the top of the rankings as she prepared to take the court.
"I'm growing and I'm not putting the pressure on my shoulders if something like this happens," she said.
On match point, Kerber hit a backhand that appeared to be heading long, and Wozniacki was going to let it go until she realized the ball might have clipped the baseline. She swung too late and sent the ball sailing out to end the match instead of challenging the call.
"I got a few texts, but that just made me feel worse," Wozniacki said. "But at the end of the day, I don't think [challenging] it would have made a difference."
Not with the way Kerber was relentlessly hammering her shots. Wozniacki even mixed in a few moon balls but to no avail. Usually content to play defense, Wozniacki found herself trying to force the issue and made an uncharacteristic 26 unforced errors.
A two-time runner-up at Flushing Meadows, she arrived at this year's tournament ranked No. 74 in the world after missing 2 1/2 months because of an ankle injury. She was seeking to become the lowest-ranked women's finalist at the US Open, other than an unranked Kim Clijsters in 2009.
"Probably people ruled me out, but it's nice to prove people wrong once again," Wozniacki said.
How much longer might she keep trying to prove people wrong? Just as she had after her quarterfinal victory, Wozniacki declined to address a question about reports that her father told media she could retire in the next year or two.