Kiki Bertens on Wednesday announced the 2021 season will be her last. The former World No.4 announced the news at a press conference in The Netherlands.
Bertens, 29, said the combination of last year's COVID break as well as an ongoing Achilles injury accelerated her decision to move on to a new chapter in her life, which she made after Roland Garros.
"I know the success that I have had, I don't know if that's going to come soon and that's not only because of the injury," Bertens told WTA Insider. "Life showed me there's something else. I think a lot of the girls who have had a longer career already probably felt the same way. I think it's easier when you're younger if you step away a little bit from the game and start competing again.
"For me, if Covid didn't come maybe I could continue for two to three more years, I have no idea. But when you're in the rhythm of doing something, it's easy for me and I can just keep on going, no matter how long.
"That's why I could play 30 tournaments a year and go in week and week out and play singles and doubles and everything. But once you step away, your body has to get used to it again, it makes it tough. Now I enjoy home so much, so why do I have to go out there and struggle, struggle with my fitness level, of the injury and how I feel on court, if I could also be home and enjoying my time. It's just time for a new chapter and I'm looking forward to that."
Bertens was not thinking retirement when the 2020 season began. A year before, she won the biggest title of her career, at the Mutua Madrid Open, and had reached a career-high No.4 in the rankings, making her the highest-ranked Dutchwoman in WTA history. At the 2019 Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, she handed No.1 Ashleigh Barty her only loss of the tournament. Bertens finished 2019 inside the Top 10 for the second consecutive year.
As 2020 began, Bertens looked ready to pick up right where she left off. She made the quarterfinals in Brisbane, Round of 16 at the Australian Open, won two matches at the Billie Jean King Cup and defended her title in St. Petersburg. Long considered a clay-court specialist, Bertens was enjoying her best start to the season on hardcourts.
"I felt it was really going to be a good year," Bertens said. "But then COVID came and everything changed, of course. I gave my body total rest because I felt like I needed it. With the unknown, it was tough to go out there and practice everyday. So I thought I would give my body a total rest, and I quite liked it to be honest."
When Bertens returned to the practice court to prepare for last summer's restart, the pain in her Achilles returned immediately. When the season finished, she opted to undergo surgery to heal the injury. Despite her doctor's warning of the tough rehabilitation road in front of her, she was confident.
"I'm strong, I can do this faster than anyone else," Bertens said. "I really believed that. But that was not the case, to be honest."
Good days on the practice court were followed by days in which she struggled to walk. The inability to count on her body left Bertens demoralized.
"If the 100% you give every day is not enough anymore, and the work doesn't give you the satisfaction anymore, you have to ask yourself why am I still doing this? On that 'why' I didn't find the answers. For me then, it was a clear decision. It's enough for me. Enough is enough.
"I talked about it with Elise [Tamaela, coach] and Remko [de Rijke, husband and trainer] and after Paris I made the decision that this is not how I want to continue my career because I don't want to end it where it's all only frustrating. I want to end it in a nice way and on my own terms. That's why I decided this will be my last season."
Bertens is at peace with her decision because, despite her injury struggles, she is not being "forced" into retirement. The COVID break gave her a taste of what life could be without grinding it out every week. It snapped her out of her professional routine, and the fact is, the low-key Dutchwoman didn't mind it. She leaves the sport knowing that a fulfilling life awaits her on the other side.
"For me, I don't have to push myself every single day," Bertens said. "I think during my career, with everything I'm doing, I really want the best out of it and that costs a lot of energy. So to not have to do that, to have my day not scheduled - I can eat and drink whatever I want, I can see my friends whenever I want, see my family - I can do that stuff without the schedule where I have to plan things four or five months ahead.
"I think that's the most important thing for me now. Having a new house, starting a new life, maybe in the future we can have some kids and also maybe a dog, just a normal family life, that's what I'm really looking forward to."
For now, Bertens plans to play Eastbourne, Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics. At that point, she will decide whether she wants to end her career in Tokyo or continue on to the summer hardcourt season.
"I'm really happy that I can end it this way," Bertens said. "That I can hopefully end it in the right way with some nice results. But I'm proud of the career that I had, I'm happy that I can end my career with Elise and Remko together. We're just going to make the best out of it.
"To go to the Olympics with Demi [Schuurs], it will be really nice. For Demi, it's really a dream coming true that she can play in the Olympics. To be next to her would really be great. To share that with her, to share that with close friends, to end your career like that, I think it will be great. Hopefully, we can do something really nice together."