SINGAPORE - Prior to 2018, Kiki Bertens could have been considered something of a claycourt specialist. All four of the Dutchwoman's career titles had come on the terre battue, as had her sole Grand Slam semifinal at Roland Garros 2016. Her three Top 10 victories and 72.6% winning percentage on clay marked her out as a threat to the very top players on it; by contrast, she had never beaten a Top 10 player on any other surface, and a 47.8% winning percentage across grass and hard courts combined reflected Bertens' lack of confidence without the comforting dirt underfoot.
All that changed this year. Sure, she settled into the familiar pattern off the bat, with just four wins in her first seven hard court tournaments before it all clicked on clay again. But this time, Bertens used her clay successes - including her maiden Premier title in Charleston and first Premier Mandatory final in Madrid - as a springboard to translate her game to other surfaces. A Wimbledon quarterfinal and two hard court trophies in Cincinnati and Seoul followed, as did eight Top 10 wins - indeed, the month of August alone saw the 26-year-old rack up more Top 10 scalps on hard courts than in her entire career previously on clay.
The improvements to Bertens' game were evident for all to see: she had found that her heavy, deep topspin could be as effective at pushing opponents back on hard courts as well as on clay - but also that the pace she can generate on her forehand in particular is an effective point-ender on faster surfaces when she goes for it. Last year's WTA Finals doubles runner-up also spent 2018 deploying her improved skills at net and on touch shots, key elements of her Wimbledon run, to fine effect. Her rewards as the season drew to a close have been a breakthrough into the Top 10 - and a debut singles spot at this year's WTA Finals.
2018 WTA Awards Winners:
WTA Player of the Year: Simona Halep
WTA Doubles Team of the Year: Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova
WTA Most Improved Player of the Year: Kiki Bertens
WTA Newcomer of the Year: Aryna Sabalenka
WTA Comeback Player of the Year: Serena Williams
Jerry Diamond ACES Award: Elina Svitolina