ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - No.2 seed Kiki Bertens played dominant tennis against the giant-killing No.4 seed Aryna Sabalenka, needing two sets to book her spot at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy final.
Sabalenka’s stellar start to 2019 saw her make her Top 10 debut this week, but Bertens brought her back down to earth in confident style, winning 7-6(5), 6-2 after an hour and 38 minutes on court.
“It was a really tough match,” Bertens admitted afterward. “Aryna, she’s had an unbelievable year and she plays really aggressive, hits really hard. So It’s hard to beat her.
“But I think today went really well, I just tried to go for my shots where I could and try and stay in the rally where I could too.”
The Dutch player continued her impressive form in the Russian city, firing nine aces and striking 29 winners against Sabalenka’s 18. Bertens kept her unforced errors contained to 23, with most of Sabalenka’s 36 winners coming in the nervy second set.
Bertens made a strong start to the match against Sabalenka on Sibur Arena, powering ahead to a break in the very first game before firing an ace to back it up with a solid hold. But Sabalenka stayed within touching distance with a break of her own, leveling the score at 2-2.
The pair held plenty of other chances to break later on in a tight set decided by fine margins, with Bertens’ all-court game matching up evenly with Sabalenka’s power hitting. The next eight games went to the server, however, as the pair marched on toward a decider.
In the tiebreak, Sabalenka once again started with a strong lead, earning the first minibreak to lead 3-1. But a double fault - her first of the match - derailed her progress and allowed Bertens back in, with the Dutch pouncing on the opportunity and leveling things up at 3-3.
Bertens eventually brought up three set points at 6-3, with Sabalenka saving two with her booming groundstrokes, but Bertens wouldn’t be denied as she powered ahead to take the opening set just under an hour.
Bertens carried that momentum into the second set, looking fully in control as she twiced edged Sabalenka’s service games to soar ahead to a daunting 4-0 lead. Sabalenka dug her heels in and pumped herself up, earning a break back at 4-1 to try to get herself back into it, but Bertens was relentless and quickly arrived at match point at 5-2.
She needed over nine minutes in the marathon final game as Sabalenka threw everything at her in order to stay in the match - saving three match points - but Bertens took it on the fourth one to see off her first Top 10 opponent of the year.
The win puts Bertens through to her first final of the year, backing up a breakthrough 2018 season that saw her claim titles and reach finals across two surfaces, including triumphs at Charleston and Cincinnati and a runner-up finish at Madrid.
Up next, Bertens awaits the winner between No.8 seed Donna Vekic or former World No.2 Vera Zvonareva for a chance to lift the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy trophy.