MADRID, Spain - Kiki Bertens was still grinning with happiness and disbelief when she walked into her final press conference of the week at the Mutua Madrid Open.
Barely an hour earlier, she had completed a stunning run to win the Premier Mandatory-level event - the biggest title of career. And she had done so in untouchable style, becoming the first woman to win the tournament without dropping a set, taking down four Grand Slam winners along the way in Simona Halep, Jelena Ostapenko, Sloane Stephens and Petra Kvitova.
Facing the press with the Madrid champion’s trophy at her side, Bertens could still hardly put it all into words.
“It has not really [sunk in yet], I would say. But I'm just really happy,” she said. “I think after every title you feel something, of course. Sometimes it's a lot of emotions. Sometimes it is really happiness. Sometimes it's just like not believing. But right now, I don't know yet how I feel.
“I just feel really happy. I am really proud of this week. I played some good tennis. No. 4 in the world on Monday, so it's, yeah. I don't know, it is just all amazing things.”
It couldn’t be more different from one year ago, when Bertens also faced the press after the Madrid Open final - that time, she was the defeated finalist after falling to Kvitova in a three-set heartbreaker.
On Saturday, Bertens admitted that her experience in last year’s final - then the biggest final of her career - still weighed on her mind as she took the court against Halep.
“Last year was my first, like, big final,” she explained. “It was tough with the support, like, the crowd. It is like pretty noisy here, and then it was a really tough match against Petra. She played really well. I also played a really good match.
“It was really tough to lose that one. But today, I was going out there, like, confident, just playing my game, just being busy with that and with nothing else.
“And so I didn't really feel the stress today. So I think, yeah, because of last year, that's why I felt more ready to win it now.”
Part of Bertens’ newfound confidence is due to the way she bounced back after last year’s Madrid final defeat. The Dutchwoman, then having already won a Premier title at Charleston, would go on to lift trophies at Cincinnati and Seoul, reach the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and make her WTA Finals debut. This year, she’s only the second player on tour to win two WTA tiles, after triumphing at St. Petersburg.
Her success on hardcourts, clay, and grass, indoor and outdoor, has transformed Bertens from somewhat of a claycourt specialist to an all-surface threat.
So it makes it even more special that the biggest triumph of her career to date came on the one surface she loves the most.
“On the clay, I really feel like I can play my own game,” Bertens said. “Even, like, when I don't play well I'm still, I'm not panicking too much which, on other surfaces, it happens a little bit too much,” she smiled.
“But on clay I feel the confidence, I feel the balance in my game, so it's easier to return for me as well because I can go a little more back. So, I feel like almost in every game I have some opportunities, so it gives me a good balance, I would say.”
With the WTA’s biggest clay tournament in the bag, the tennis world is already turning its sights to Rome and, later on, the French Open. Sitting at a new career-high ranking of World No.4 come Monday and owning more match wins on clay since 2016 than any other woman - a 68-18 record - Bertens will likely arrive in Paris no longer as the dark horse pick but as a title contender.
But in the meantime, Bertens will try to get her feet back on the ground as she heads to the Italian capital. Despite her dominant week, the Dutch player still admitted to feeling mentally drained as she tried to process the events.
“It was, like, still a tough week,” Bertens explained. “It is not that I played really long matches, but still you played a few matches here… I have no idea how the body is going to react.
“All the emotions are coming out now. So I have to see how I feel in a few days. But it's good that I have a bye in the first round, so we travel there tomorrow. We will have a hit on Monday and then see how the body is feeling.”
Bertens will be in action next week at the BNL Internazionale d’Italia, which starts main draw action on Monday, May 13.