Bertens keeps Singapore hopes alive

Published by Matt Trollope

Kiki Bertens currently sits in 9th place the Race to Singapore; Getty Images
A mad dash to Wuhan from Seoul and a first-round victory once she got there have kept Kiki Bertens’ hopes of a WTA Finals debut alive.

Kiki Bertens on Monday extended her winning streak to six with a gruelling three-set triumph over Belinda Bencic in Wuhan.

Yet this was no ordinary win.

She had landed in Wuhan just four hours before taking to the court against the Swiss, fresh off her title-winning run in Seoul at the weekend.

And she’ll have precious little rest before she is at it again in the second round – this time taking on Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

It might seem like an unfairly taxing schedule, but when a place at the WTA Finals is at stake, what other choice does she have?

Bertens is currently ninth in the Race to Singapore, less than 100 points behind the eighth-placed Karolina Pliskova.

She was actually in eighth place herself until this week, when Pliskova’s triumph in Tokyo (which earned the Czech 470 points) vaulted her above Bertens, who gained 280 points for victory in Seoul.

With the upper rungs of the WTA rankings more closely positioned than ever, less than 500 points separate the fifth-placed Wozniacki from the ninth-placed Bertens.

Therefore, Bertens’ debut at the glittering season-ending event is very much a possibility, especially so given seventh-placed Sloane Stephens is already out of the Wuhan tournament.

Bertens would be the first Dutchwoman to appear in singles at the event.

Up to a career-high ranking of No.11, her transformation from solid top-30 player to Singapore contender can be traced back to her marked improvement on surfaces other than clay.

Until this halfway through this season, she had appeared in seven tour-level finals – all of which came on clay. She had won five of them, plus posted a semifinal finish at Roland Garros in 2016, to establish herself as one of the game’s premier “clay-court specialists”.

But then, in July, something changed. She advanced to the Wimbledon quarterfinals, having never previously been beyond the last 32.

In August, she ripped through the draw in Cincinnati, defeating four top-10 players on the quick hard courts en route to her biggest ever title.

Then came victory in Seoul, also on hard courts, a triumph “bolstering the newfound ability she has demonstrated in 2018 to transfer her weighty clay game to other surfaces,” wrote Alex Macpherson for wtatennis.com, before adding: “Bertens has won 20 of her past 23 matches stretching back to Wimbledon across grass and hard courts.”

Bertens pointed to a more attacking mindset as one of the reasons for her improvement.

“As a player, I like the clay courts more. I think everyone knows that. But this year we try to play a little bit more aggressive, like, on the hard courts and on the grass as well,” she said.

“It’s coming together. Playing some great tennis … it’s going really well.”

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