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LONDON (Reuters) - Germany's Angelique Kerber surrendered her world number one ranking after being beaten by Spain's Garbine Muguruza in the Wimbledon fourth round on Monday but left the All England Club feeling that she may have turned a corner.
"It was for sure the best match for a long time for me ... But I think I'm still on a good way," she said after the 4-6 6-4 6-4 defeat which means either Simona Halep or Karolina Pliskova will replace her at the top of the rankings next Monday.
Kerber, winner of the U.S. and Australian Opens in 2016, came into the tournament on the back of a poor clay season and a year in which she has struggled to live up to the billing of being the world's best player.
The 29-year-old German was beaten by 40th-ranked Ekaterina Makarova at the French Open, thus becoming the first top seeded woman to lose in the opening round of the French Open since the sport turned professional in 1968.
She was also forced to withdraw from a warm-up event in Birmingham last month due to a hamstring injury, further lowering expectations for Wimbledon.
A fourth round exit is a disappointment but Kerber senses that her form is starting to re-emerge.
"When I came here, I was telling myself, I was practising good after Paris. For me, I'm still looking forward to the next months, next weeks. I think I'm again on a good way to playing again a high level of tennis," she said.
Certainly Kerber showed plenty of grit and determination against Muguruza, producing some brave attacking shots with several superb down-the-line winners in particular.
She had hardly looked back to her best in wins over Irina Falconi and Kirsten Flipkens and she was in real danger in the third round where she battled back from a set and a break down to defeat American Shelby Rogers.
But compared to some of her performances this year, the way she played against Muguruza was a distinct improvement.
"I think it's just step by step. I think all the matches I played, starting in Eastbourne, where I had good matches, but also matches (here) that I turned around, close matches that I won, and also this match where I really played good tennis, as well, and everything came together," she said.
Now her thoughts will turn to defending her title at Flushing Meadows.
"I will go home and I will take few days off, then I'm looking forward to going to the U.S," she added.
"I think I will go there also with a good motivation, good positive emotion. For me, it was really important that I played the grass season well.
"I know that I'm back, I can play good matches. This is what counts for me at the end."
Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Pritha Sarkar