The steady rise of Kiki Bertens

Published by Leigh Rogers

IMPROVING: Kiki Bertens is in career-best form; Getty Images
She’s up to a career-high ranking and is on the cusp of qualifying for the WTA Finals. We chatted to Kiki Bertens about just what is clicking in a best-ever season.

Is Kiki Bertens the biggest quiet achiever in tennis?

The 26-year-old has been one of the most consistent players on the WTA Tour this season and is verging on a top-10 debut. If she does break into the elite bracket, she would become only the third Dutchwoman to achieve the feat.

Bertens has powered into the China Open third round this week, dropping only four games in her opening two matches. Bertens is aware she has a chance to break into the top 10 next week – but she is trying not to think about.

“Even being No.11 in the world, that sounds so big and I don’t see myself as being so good,” Bertens told Tennismash.

But don’t be misguided by Bertens’ humility. Her results speak for themselves.

The seven-time WTA singles champion has recorded 42 match wins so far this season, an effort bettered only by five players. Ten of those wins have been against top 10-ranked opponents – the most top-10 wins of any player so far in 2018. She has won three titles, including a Premier 5 title in Cincinnati where she upset world No.1 Simona Halep in the final, and is one of only seven women to reach the third round or better at all four Grand Slams this season.

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Once considered a clay-court specialist, two hard court titles and a Wimbledon quarterfinal run in 2018 has proved that Bertens is now a contender on all surfaces.

She has much to be proud of – yet believes her biggest accomplishment this season has been rediscovering her enjoyment in the sport.

She has spoken candidly in the past about her struggles to feel comfortable on tour. This time last year, she was even considering retirement.

“I think what I am most proud of is how far I am now,” she said.

“Last year was a tough year for me. Results wise it was good, but I was not really happy with the way I felt on court. There was a lot of stress – so I made the decision that this is not how I want to play my career. I want to have a bit more fun and approach it a little more relaxed. I think doing what I wanted, that was a really big step for me. I’m proud I was able to do that and turn that around.”

She believes adopting a lighter schedule, including taking a break from Fed Cup competition, has helped. As has a more positive mentality and improved openness in communication with her team, led by coach and former world No.46 Raemon Sluiter.

“Before I was really disappointed after matches when I lost, I didn’t want to practice for a few days,” she admitted.

“But now I see every week is a new chance again and every day we try to be better. I think that has really worked well for me this year.”

Doubles has played a pivotal part in Bertens’ improvement too. A successful partnership with Swede Johanna Larsson netted nine titles from 2015 to 2017 and she achieved a career-high ranking of No.16 earlier this year.

“For sure the doubles game has helped a lot for my singles game,” Bertens said. “It has helped me play more aggressive and improve my returns, as well as volleying and coming to the net.”

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Improving her self-belief remains a work in progress.

“I know that I can play well and that I can beat a lot of girls, but I still feel in a way a little insecure,” she said.

“I’m having a good year so far and I’m trying to be even better, but I’m still finding my way.”

After a runner-up finish in doubles at last year’s WTA Finals, Bertens joked with her team she would be back in 2018 as a singles player. That is now close to becoming a reality.

Bertens sits ninth in the WTA Race to Singapore after her career-best season and is hoping a strong performance at the China Open this week can boost her chances of being part of the eight-member field.

Yet having already exceeded her own expectations, Bertens is not putting extra pressure on herself to qualify. She has discovered a winning approach, so knows there is no need to change it.

After all, they say: slow and steady wins the race.

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