Kiki Bertens admits she contemplated retiring from tennis at the end of last season as she struggled to find joy on the court but a change in mentality has now taken her to incredible heights as she sits nicely at the No. 8 spot in the live WTA Race to Singapore.
Bertens stormed into her third Premier-level final of the year with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over world No. 8 Petra Kvitova in Cincinnati on Saturday, establishing herself as a serious dark horse for the US Open.
The 26-year-old Dutchwoman recorded a stunning ninth victory against a top-10 player this season and her second success over Kvitova in as many weeks.
A title winner in Charleston this year, and runner-up in Madrid, where she lost the final to Kvitova, Bertens has transformed from a clay-court specialist to an all-round threat in 2018.
She reached the quarter-finals on the lawns of Wimbledon last month, the quarter-finals on the hard courts of Montreal last week, and is now in the final on the fast hard courts of Cincinnati.
“I think in the end of last year I was really not happy with the way I felt. I was like, ‘okay, I don’t want to continue like this. So if I have to feel like this all the time on the court it’s better to stop’,” confessed Bertens on Saturday.
“At that point, I really was [considering retirement]. Of course, the season is so long. So at the end you’re completely dead. Of course it was a really good thing that we reached Singapore in doubles, but, yeah, that was not a great time there.
“Mentally it was really tough. I really needed a break, needed a holiday to think about, yeah, how I wanted to continue. But I think if I was feeling the same now as how I felt last year, then it was better for me to stop, yes.”
Instead of retiring though, Bertens drew up a game plan with her Dutch coach Raemon Sluiter and her results now speak for themselves.
“From then on, I just made some rules for myself and with Raemon, like, ‘Okay, how do you want to play? How do you want to feel on court? Okay. Let’s go for that’. Yeah, that’s working,” she explained.
Bertens actually peaked at No. 18 in the world last year but despite her positive results, she was not having a good time on the court.
“I had some great results, but still I could not really enjoy it. So it was always like if I won, okay, it was like more kind of a relief and not like happiness and already saying, ‘Okay, but tomorrow I have to go again’. Everything was more like, ‘Okay, I really have to do this’, and not, like, ‘Okay, it’s another opportunity to play some great tennis’.”
She is admittedly miles away from how she felt end of last year and is now into her first-ever hard-court final.
On Saturday in Cincinnati, Bertens broke first in the opening set for a 3-2 advantage but Kvitova took the next four games to take a one-set lead.
The second set saw a series of seven service breaks (six in a row) that ended with Bertens leveling the match to force a decider.
Entering the semi-finals, Kvitova had spent more than six hours on court through her first three matches, compared to less than five hours spent by Bertens, despite playing one more match since she had no bye.
The fatigue looked to have caught up with Kvitova in the third set, which Bertens took control of to book a ticket to the final.
The Dutchwoman, who has struck the fourth-most aces on tour this season (225 aces in 48 matches) will rise to a career-high No. 15 in the world by virtue of making the final, and could move up to 13 if she wins the trophy.
All of Bertens’ seven previous WTA finals have come on clay and while she says she practiced a lot this year to be more aggressive on faster surfaces, her results this week were not necessarily expected.
“Maybe a little bit of a surprise, yes, because I never did really well on the hard courts. So this year, like, going — or in the grass, as well, so being in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon, that really gave me a boost, like, ‘Okay, I can really do this’,” she says.
“Yeah, also with Raemon, when we flew to the States, it was, like, Yeah, maybe you can just play a final in one of these weeks. I was, like, Yeah, sure. But I was not really believing it. But, yeah, I’m just playing good tennis. I would not say I’m playing, like, the best I ever did, but it’s just feeling well. It’s working well. Yeah, I feel good with it.”
Stan Wawrinka heads to the US Open beaming with confidence after two strong weeks in Toronto and Cincinnati saw him defeat a host of quality players before falling 6-7(2), 7-6(6), 6-2 to Roger Federer late on Friday.
Exactly a year ago, Wawrinka had just undergone two knee surgeries (on August 5 and August 13) and was unsure if and when he’d be able to get back to his top level.
After six months out of the game, the 33-year-old Swiss returned to competition at the Australian Open in January, before taking another break from mid-February to mid-May to work on his fitness.
Prior to his third-round showing in Toronto last week, Wawrinka had posted just six wins this year, against 11 losses and was still searching for form.
But a win over Nick Kyrgios in Canada, followed by a battling victory over Marton Fucsovics, in which he saved four match points, were positive signs for the three-time Grand Slam champion, and he went down fighting in two tight sets against eventual champion and world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the last-16.
In Cincinnati, Wawrinka looked more and more like his vintage best, taking out the likes of Diego Schwartzman and Kei Nishikori on his way to the quarter-finals. Playing two matches in one day on Friday due to the rain-interrupted schedule, Wawrinka defeated Fucsovics for a second consecutive week, then gave Federer all sorts of trouble before losing in three sets.
“For sure it was a great level. I think I’m playing great in general,” said a proud Wawrinka after the defeat.
“I’m playing better every day, every week. Last week was really important and really good for myself, for my tennis, for my confidence. I played some good matches, tough matches, tough wins by not playing well, but then getting the confidence back. I practice a lot.
“I’m happy to see where I am right now. I had a tough match last week against Rafa. Close match, also. Today was against Roger. They are No. 1 and No. 2 in the world. I beat Schwartzman, I beat Nishikori, so the level is good.”
A champion at the US Open in 2016, Wawrinka has suddenly catapulted himself into the title contender conversation for New York but he insists it is more important for him to think long-term and where he will be at the start of next season, knowing he still has a lot to work on.
“I need to keep improving, keep working, keep doing the right thing and keep pushing myself. For sure tonight I’m sad and disappointed to lose, but for me it’s a big victory for myself after what I had last year. It was exactly one year ago. To see where I was also few weeks ago, I’m really happy to be here,” explained Wawrinka, who is expected to return to the top-100 when the new rankings are released on Monday.
“For me, it’s kind of transition year, because I knew I didn’t start the year full. I had a lot of trouble with my knee, so I didn’t play the full year. So it’s more kind of a year to really push myself to get the proper ranking at the end of the year, get a lot of match, and get fit to make a great preparation for next year.”
Reunited with his former coach Magnus Norman, Wawrinka is happy to have the Swede back in his corner as he navigates this tricky comeback journey.
“I feel like that what happened last year it’s really far, but in the same times, if I’m remember few weeks ago, it was still really tough for me,” he added.
“I needed a lot of talk with my team, a lot of focus on the right thing, accepting things that’s happening, accepting that it takes time, that you need to be patient, knowing where you want to go.
“You need to do the right things every day and take a little bit distance with the result directly; not the result, I mean, winning matches but the result of how you improved, because you can have a lot of up-and-down after a big surgery like that.
“So that’s always tough that mentally you need to accept. But for sure today it’s easy to talk about it, but I had some really tough moments.”
Federer, who also had to play twice on Friday, entered his seventh career Cincinnati semi-final, where he takes on Belgium’s David Goffin. The Swiss has never lost a semi-final here and is happy he managed to scrape through against Wawrinka.
“Stan has the power, and I’m so glad he’s back on the tour and playing well and moving well,” said Federer.
“So I really enjoyed the match for what it was. It’s difficult to always play against him but I’m happy I was able to find a way in the breaker in the second, because it was a frustrating night for me, for the most period, and in the third I was able to find a way.”
Wawrinka has received a wildcard into the US Open main draw, which begins on Monday August 27.
Defending champion Dimitrov was down 6-2, 3-6, 1-2 when his clash with Novak Djokovic was halted on Thursday due to showers that have wreaked havoc with the schedule in Mason, Ohio over the past two days.
The Bulgarian, who now trails Djokovic 1-8 head-to-head, had a great start on Thursday, taking the opening set with two breaks, and losing just six points on serve in total. But Djokovic dug in and drew level before play was suspended.
Returning to Centre Court on Friday, Djokovic held on to the service break he had from the day before to complete the win and set up a quarter-final against Milos Raonic, scheduled shortly after on Friday.
Dimitrov, who started the week ranked No. 5 but will likely drop to No. 7 after his third-round exit, has not had the best results this season, despite finishing 2017 on a high, claiming the ATP Finals crown.
He’s taking lots of positives though from his quarter-final showing in Toronto last week, and his two matches in Cincinnati.
“It’s going to be up and down, for sure, I think. I haven’t played that many matches, so every match that I win or I play well, I want to take the positive out of it,” said the 27-year-old.
“And even if, from negative matches like last week when I lost to Anderson, I played a really bad match, but in the same time, I’m, like, okay, I need to try to get the best that I can from that situation, and, yeah, move forward. I mean, that’s all I have to think of right now and that US Open is around the corner.
“Yeah, absolutely. Take maybe couple of days off, maybe watch the match a little bit more, see what I could have done better or things that I need to focus on, keep on working and, yeah, I mean, we start again in New York.”
Dimitrov hasn’t defeated Djokovic since Madrid in 2013 and this was one of their closest matches since then.
“I got him exactly where I wanted him to be, and he also, in those moments, he just kind of relaxed a little bit and he started going for more, because that’s his only chance to beat me. Everything went his way, to be honest,” admitted Dimitrov.
Meanwhile, Kyrgios hit out at officiating in Cincinnati, and complained about a lengthy toilet break Juan Martin del Potro took in their third round on Friday.
Didn’t get a chance to talk to Kyrgios after his match but I guess I got his post-match thoughts anyway… pic.twitter.com/b8GcEvjzPN
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) August 17, 2018
The 23-year-old Aussie, a runner-up here last year, fell 7-6 (4), 6-7 (6), 6-2 to Del Potro, who left the court for a nine-minute toilet break after he dropped the second set, which angered an already irritated Kyrgios, who had been arguing with umpire Adel Nour over an interruption made by a line judge during play.
After the match, Kyrgios posted, then deleted, a post on his Instagram story that, in his opinion, summed up his week in Cincinnati.
“Two point penalties. Horrendous umpiring. Crazy toilet breaks,” read the post.
His mother Norlaila Kyrgios also weighed in on the matter saying on Twitter: “Something as ordinary as a toilet break is a debatable topic at this level of tennis. Does the player really need to go, or is it a ruse to buy time, clear the mind and alter momentum? Coincidentally, it’s usually when someone loses a set.”
Kyrgios, who has been struggling with a hip issue and played both his matches in Cincinnati with both knees taped, is likely to drop from 18 to 30 in the world when the new rankings are released on Monday – his lowest ranking since February 2016.