NEW HAVEN, CT, USA - Ever since the first week of the clay season, Kiki Bertens has been going non-stop, putting in a career-best performance one week and then going even bigger the next week.
But despite claiming her first Premier title in Charleston and going on to reach the then-biggest final of her career in Madrid, it wasn’t until she moved away from her beloved clay courts that her game really started to turn heads. She backed up a Wimbledon quarterfinal run - her best Grand Slam result outside of Roland Garros - with a quarterfinal appearance at Montreal that saw her score wins over World No.8 Petra Kvitova and No.9 Karolina Pliskova, her first Top 10 victories on hardcourts.
Read more: Kiki Bertens withdraws from New Haven
Then came her biggest breakthrough moment: lifting the trophy at the Western & Southern Open, her biggest title to date on any surface - and her first on hardcourts. Along the way she defeated the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova and Elina Svitolina - all ranked Top 10 - and then topped it off in the final with a stunner over World No.1 Simona Halep.
Playing the best tennis of her life and with the momentum firmly in her favor, Bertens made the tough choice to hit the brakes, withdrawing from the Connecticut Open due to viral illness hours before she was set to play her first match.
After 13 matches across two weeks in singles and doubles, the thought of playing even more tennis went from exciting to daunting.
“It was a really tough decision to make because I was in a great rhythm, great flow, and I just wanted to keep on going,” Bertens told press today in New Haven. “But yesterday before the [singles] match we warmed up in the morning and 15 minutes I felt already completely dead. So I was like, yeah if I have to play singles now…
“And then if you win, the next day you have to play again. So it was more that feeling, that I’d have to keep going if I won, that was stopping me… Yesterday was just one day too soon to start playing again and be ready for singles.”
But unlike most players who would hop straight on to the shuttle to New York City, Bertens decided to stick around at the Yale Tennis Center to compete in doubles, where she’s seeded No.3 along with partner Johanna Larsson.
For Bertens, who owns 10 career doubles titles - most of them with Larsson - it was a natural move to turn to doubles in order to bounce back from singles.
“I really like to play doubles. Of course, we focus on the singles, but sometimes doubles is really nice: for example, when you lose early in singles, you get to play another match in doubles. That helps me always for the week after,” she said.
“I think in the past doubles helped me a lot to keep playing matches and find my rhythm again for singles. Now it’s a little bit more difficult to plan it, so we’re kind of trying to schedule what weeks we’re playing doubles, what weeks not.”
Bertens admitted to feeling ‘completely dead’ and under the weather after arriving in New Haven just one day after her heroics in Cincinnati. So with an eye on the US Open - which kicks off in less than one week’s time - the Dutch player is treating every doubles match like a practice session to make sure she’s physically and mentally ready for the last Grand Slam of the year.
“I think it’s still better to play matches sometimes than to practice,” she explained. “I think playing a match is the best practice you can have. Here, I can still play some matches, have some practice, and not have the busyness of New York City.
“And if I’m feeling like I have to play, then I want to play.”
After defeating the World No.1 Halep to win the biggest title of her career, Bertens is heading into New York with more attention on her than ever before. But despite her confidence being at an all-time high, Bertens is trying to keep a calm head to manage lofty expectations.
“I feel great on the court now, just hitting the ball it feels really well, and also doing so well on the hardcourts. I’m just really looking forward to playing in New York again,” she said, adding: “The thing is, it can be over at any day again. You can lose first round and still play great - some girls also play great tennis.
“You have to think that it’s just another day, and just try to focus on that. Just try to be a better player every day, just keep on working hard and then see what happens.”