Kiki Bertens became the first player from the Netherlands – man or woman – to win the Cincinnati title and she did it the hard way, saving match point en route to a 2-6, 7-6 (6), 6-2 victory over world No. 1 Simona Halep on Sunday.
Playing her first-ever hard-court final, the 26-year-old Bertens snapped Halep’s nine-match winning streak and denied the Romanian the opportunity to become the first woman since 1973 to pull off the Canada-Cincinnati double.
Bertens, who will rise to a career-high No. 13 on Monday, posted an astounding 10th victory over a top-10 player this season and her first against Halep since 2012.
It was Halep’s third defeat in a Cincinnati final having lost to Garbine Muguruza here last year and to Serena Williams in 2015.
Bertens is having a stunning 2018 after contemplating retirement at the end of last season because she wasn’t finding the joy on the tennis court. But she has transformed herself from a clay-court specialist to an all-round player this year, winning Charleston and Cincinnati, finishing as runner-up in Madrid and making the Wimbledon quarter-finals.
Halep broke in the opening game of the match then went up a double-break to lead 5-2. She took a one-set lead in 30 minutes.
The top seed fell behind 1-4 in the second set but drew level and forced a tiebreak. It looked like it might all be over when Halep got a championship point in the breaker but big hitting from Bertens saw her survive and she grabbed the second set to take the final into a decider.
Halep double-faulted in the first game of the third set to face two break points. She saved the first with an aggressive forehand that clipped the sideline and the second slipped away from Bertens on a poorly-executed drop shot. But the Dutchwoman created another opportunity and got the break moments later.
Darren Cahill, Halep’s coach, tried to encourage her during an on-court coaching visit but the world No. 1 cut a somber figure, admitting she had her chance to close out the match earlier and blew it.
— WTA (@WTA) August 19, 2018
Halep broke back immediately but Bertens struck once again and she was soon up a double-break, serving at 4-1. Halep got her hands on two break points the next game after hitting a ‘tweener’ on a Bertens lob. But the Dutchwoman stood her ground and wrapped up the victory shortly after.
“It’s the third time I’m in the same position, I lost three finals here but hopefully I’ll win the next one,” said Halep during her on-court speech.
“Kiki you played amazing, you really deserve this title.”
A complete overhaul of the Davis Cup is set to take place next year after a proposal was voted through on Thursday by the ITF.
The new Davis Cup will see a change in format and scheduling, resulting in a one-week World Cup-like event played at a neutral venue at the end of November, starting with the 2019 season. There will still be 12 home ties contested during the qualifying stage in February but the inaugural Davis Cup finals will be held in either Madrid or Lille.
ITF president David Haggerty believes this vote has “secured the long-term status of Davis Cup” but the decision is being met by mixed reaction from players and federations.
The new deal was put together by the investment group Kosmos, founded by Barcelona and Spain footballer Gerard Pique and backed by Hiroshi Mikitani, chairman of Japanese electrical giant Rakuten. American billionaire Larry Ellison, who owns the Indian Wells tournament, has also pledged his financial support.
With so many layers and elements to this new, radical, transformation of Davis Cup, tennis writer Reem Abulleil sat down with New York Times contributor and acclaimed tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg, who had been following the story closely and was in Orlando reporting on all the happenings of the ITF’s annual general meeting where the proposal was voted upon.
In part one of the discussion, Rothenberg gives us insight into what happened in Orlando, and whether the passing of the proposal took him by surprise.
The new Davis Cup is scheduled to take place from November 18-24, 2019 following the ATP Finals, with the qualifying round taking place in February.
Part two of the chat looks at the scheduled dates for the competition and whether players would be willing to extend their already problematically long seasons.Will a top-eight player finish playing the ATP Finals in London then have enough in the tank to go play a week-long Davis Cup tournament?
“That’s a big question. It’s almost not even about the London players, I think it’s more about the Bercy players. Because the London players will have at least kept playing. For Bercy, because there’s still a week off between Bercy and London, so you’ll have to wait two weeks and then play again, already deep into your offseason,” said Rothenberg.
“Sascha Zverev said he wants to be in the Maldives at that time. The amount of time they have off is short. Counter-argument which ITF would make to that, will be that you’re giving them two weeks off more in the middle of the year, you’re lessening the load in the middle and hopefully they have a little bit more saved up for the end.”
Part three of the discussion looks at the $3bn investment: Who benefits the most from this money? Are the rich federations only looking at this from one side and not realising the overall good that can come from this new Davis Cup?
“People say money, oh like it’s corruption, but money is not automatically corruption. A lot of countries – even countries like Brazil, the Brazilian federation head told me they were losing money hosting Davis Cup ties. The amount of money it took to put together a tie, they were not making back, in TV or ticket sales,” explained Rothenberg.
Part four looks at the strong opposition to this new format and whether it is all justified. Rothenberg also discusses how Davis Cup ended up being in this position and how the lack of change during the previous ITF regime damaged the competition.
Finally, we hear from Pique and his reaction after the vote in Orlando.
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.”