MIAMI, FL, USA - The Miami Open is the last major hard court tournament for the next five months, and several top seeds eagerly await the change in pace.
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“I’m really looking forward to getting back on clay, because it’s been a while,” Kiki Bertens admitted during Wednesday’s All-Access Hour. “I’ve missed it! It’s something to look forward to after this week.”
Bertens made her first big breakthrough on clay back in 2016, reaching the Roland Garros semifinals, and began her march towards a Top 10 debut with a run to the Mutua Madrid Open final last spring.
Always aware of her abilities on the terre battue, the No.7 seed often went back to clay after Wimbledon to play through the tour’s International events ahead of the US Open Series. Strong results at the All England Club - reaching a first quarterfinal - made sitting out the clay court segue a wiser option in 2018, a bittersweet change for the 27-year-old Dutchwoman.
“The clay court season is getting shorter for me, but I like that, because it means that I’ve had better results on hard courts.”
Karolina Pliskova unexpectedly echoed Bertens’ sentiment; though the three-time WTA Ace Leader has always preferred hardcourts, Pliskova has grown accustomed to the clay since making the French Open semifinals and winning the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.
“I actually look forward to the clay court season now,” the No.5 seed said on the eve of her 27th birthday. “It’s still not my favorite surface, obviously, but it’s a nice change and it would be too boring to play all of the tournaments on hard courts.
“It’s a nice change for a couple weeks and it’s a chance to work on some different things in my game.”
The former World No.1 opted out of the upcoming Fed Cup play-off to best prepare for the clay court season, continuing to work with both Rennae Stubbs and Conchita Martínez, a Wimbledon champion who enjoyed plenty of success in Paris with a runner-up finish in 2000 and 11 total appearances in the quarterfinals or better.
“I’ll have a lot of time to practice because it’s a big transition from hardcourts to clay. I want to get used to it and then play big tournaments there.
“I always look forward to going back on hard courts too, but I like it for five or six weeks. It can be a lot of tournaments, too, because I also play Prague and Stuttgart, so I play a lot.”
In the meantime, Pliskova won't wish time away. A semifinalist in Miami two years ago, the Czech star aims to end a solid quarter - and erase a disappointing BNP Paribas Open quarterfinal defeat - with one more strong result on Miami's bright blue courts.
"Overall, the start of the year has been good. I’m quite happy with my game. I was sick for a little while, so Dubai might not have been the best, but the year is long and I cannot be 100% the whole time. Australia was great, and now I have another chance on hard courts. I always like these American hard court tournaments, so I hope to do well here."
The idea of making Miami a clay court tournament to better bridge the gap between the two sections of the season has been bandied about by fans and journalists alike for years. Despite enjoying the Hard Rock Stadium's new vibe, Bertens, unaware of the debate, immediately brightened.
“For me, the clay court season can always be a little bit longer, so why not?”
Bertens will begin her concrete campaign against Wang Xiyu on Thursday, while Pliskova will play either Zhang Shuai or Petra Martic on Friday.