CHARLESTON, USA - You know it's the clay season when Kiki Bertens starts taking home titles. The 26-year-old clay court stalwart kicked off her clay season by capturing the biggest title of her career on Sunday, defeating Julia Goerges 6-2, 6-1 to win the Volvo Car Open.
To win her first Premier title, Bertens had to do it the hard way. After rain washed out play on Semifinal Saturday, Bertens saved match point in a grueling 2 hour and 42 minute semifinal win over Madison Keys before turning around to play the final a few hours later. Not that Bertens minded all too much. The more hours she gets to spend on her favorite surface, the better. And it showed in Charleston.
Bertens was all smiles as she joined the WTA Insider Podcast after her long final day, to discuss her up and down season so far, why her game just makes sense on clay, and why she owes Aleksandra Krunic more than just a glass of wine after her title run.
Listen to the full interview with Kiki on the WTA Insider Podcast below:
WTA Insider: When you first got to Charleston, did you feel like it was going to be a special week?
Bertens: I really liked that I was back on the clay, to be honest. But it was just a dream to win the title here. I never thought about it all week. Even this morning, I wasn't thinking about the title, I was just trying to play as good as I can and now I have the trophy.
WTA Insider: You're the third person to come back from match point down to win a title this year. Talk about the semifinal against Madison Keys. That was nearly three hours of drama and to come through it seemed to set you up in a good way.
Bertens: Yeah it was a really tough match. The conditions today were tough. It was cold this morning, but it was the same for both of us.
I think I played good. Then in the second set I had some chances to close the match out but I didn't. Then in the third set she had match point. I was just like, keep on going. In the end I won and I was so happy for that. That gave me a real boost again. You're going to go out there again in a few hours for the final and give all the energy you have and we'll see. And now I'm here with the trophy.
WTA Insider: Was there a moment in the final where you thought, oh my gosh, this is happening.
Bertens: Still no, really, to be honest. I was nervous in a few of my matches here to close it out, but today, I don't know what was really going on. I think Julia didn't play a great match but I was just trying to hit as many balls in the court as I could. But I just thought, well maybe now she's going to hit every ball in and then I'm in trouble. I'm happy she didn't do that and I could win this title. When I saw the last ball was out, I was like 'Ah! I just won!' I wasn't really thinking about it before.
WTA Insider: I remember talking to you in Charleston last year about how different you feel when you're on clay. Earlier this week you said that your game might be 20% better on clay, but in your head, it feels like 80% better. Is it really just about comfort?
Bertens: It is, but also my game fits better on clay. I think my movement is much better. I can slide, so I can push more from the legs, especially from the forehand. I can play some higher balls and the ball is bouncing more. So I think for my game it's fitting well.
I think also on the hard courts I can make a big step, but I'm still in love with the clay. Sorry.
WTA Insider: You're 5-1 in finals now. For a player who says she isn't naturally confident, why do you think you have such a great record in finals?
Bertens: I don't know to be honest (laughs). The one final I lost (2016 Gstaad) it was 6-4 in the third, so I was really close in that one.
It's just a great feeling. I think the further the tournament goes, the more confidence I'm having. The final is the last match. You're going to go out there and give all the energy you have left and you'll see. So far it went almost all the time perfect.
WTA Insider: Do you think getting this title at the start of the clay season might allow you to play a little bit looser during the clay season?
Bertens: Maybe yeah, because you're always thinking about the points you have to defend. I know that from last year I had some great results in Rome and Madrid and then Nuremberg again, like three weeks in a row. So, of course, you're thinking this has to go well now. So if you start like this, of course it releases a little bit of pressure.
But I just wanted to go out there again and have a little bit of rest now. I'm not going to play in Lugano next week, so I'm just going to recover from this week, enjoy it for sure, and then have some good practice days again and then Stuttgart next.
WTA Insider: Do you feel more pressure on clay? Because you know how well you can play on it, does it make it a double-edged sword because you know what you can do?
Bertens: Sometimes it does, yes, but it always goes better (laughs). For now it always worked out. Last year, there was a lot of pressure. You have semifinals in Paris, a lot of points to defend, if you don't do well you might be out of the Top 100 again. I had such a great few weeks before Roland Garros and I defended all my points already from the semifinal. Hopefully I can do that maybe this year again and go a little further. But right now I'm just really happy with how I started my clay court season.
WTA Insider: You mentioned during your press conference that you got sick after the Australian Open and actually bruised your rib from coughing?
Bertens: Yeah, I got sick. Normally I'm never sick, but I had a really bad flu. I think in the Netherlands everyone had it and it lasted for a long time. I felt a little bit better in St. Petersburg but I had to pull out of there after a set because I was not feeling good. Then I was back in bed for two weeks, so I could no play Doha. Then I played Dubai, feeling a bit better, but then the rib got worse again from playing.
WTA Insider: You bruised it by coughing too much?
Bertens: I bruised it from coughing. I didn't know that could happen, but it can. It was really painful. Every movement you make you feel it. It wasn't all the time pain, but I was still feeling it after six weeks.
But I had some great physical weeks of practice. At Indian Wells, I lost early so I used those weeks to practice good. Lots of hours in the gym, lots of hours on court, and I think that's really paid off now in the clay court season.
WTA Insider: You had such difficult draws in Indian Wells and Miami, drawing Serena in the second round and then Venus in Miami, where you had chances. Looks like those early exits actually might have helped you.
Bertens: Maybe yes, maybe it does. But also I think those close matches that you lose, it's always really tough but you learn a lot from it. I wanted to go out there again and practice as hard as I could for this clay court season so I was really ready physically. I was not ready before. Now I just feel like I'm ready. I'm ready to go for 3 hours. I'm ready to play another match today. I feel good.
WTA Insider: This week you were working with Elise Tamaela. What was it like having a different voice in your ear for the week?
Bertens: It was nice. Of course, I always like the voice of Raemon as well, but he had to go home for his mom. So happy that Elise was happy to join our team. Raemon was watching all week, having talks with Elise, having talks with me, watching my matches, watching my opponents matches. He was still working, so I might have to pay him for that (laughs). He was still working, just not from here. So it felt like he was here. I was really lucky and really happy that Elise worked with me this week.
WTA Insider: So do you owe Aleksandra Krunic (who is coached by Tamaela) something for all this?
Bertens: I think dinner tonight is definitely on me (laughs). Maybe we'll have a glass of wine as well. I'm just going to say again to her, thank you for this week. I know her and she wanted to do it, it wasn't a big problem from the beginning. That says a lot about what kind of person she is, to share your coach, even playing against me. But she's a really nice girl and I'm really happy she wanted to do this for me.
WTA Insider: So it looks like you have a new Volvo to drive around the Netherlands. How good of a driver are you?
Bertens: I don't know! I've never been in an accident and I've only got three fines for speeding. So I think I'm ok as a driver.