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.”
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