MADRID, Spain -- No.7 seed Kiki Bertens maintained her majestic form in Madrid, as the top-ranked player from the Netherlands defeated 8th-seeded American Sloane Stephens, 6-2, 7-5 on Friday, to reach the final of the Mutua Madrid Open for the second straight year.
"I love it here," Bertens told the press, after her win. "I love the circumstances. I love the clay. I love the altitude. So, I think it's helping me a lot for my game."
The Dutchwoman avenged her 2018 final loss to Petra Kvitova in her quarterfinal match on Thursday, and followed up with her first win in three career meetings with Stephens, last year’s Roland Garros runner-up, after 89 minutes of play, saving three set points in the second set.
"[Stephens] can hit a lot of balls back and still hit unbelievable shots," said Bertens. "So you always have to be ready for that turnaround. And I think it was good today that I broke her straight back when she broke me and that I was still able to fight for the second set."
Bertens thusly moves into the 11th WTA singles final of her career without the loss of a set, as she seeks her ninth WTA singles title. The victor had 12 winners in the match, double Stephens' total, and broke the American four times out of her ten break points.
World No.7 Bertens will take on World No.3 and two-time Madrid champion Simona Halep in Saturday’s final. Halep claimed her spot in the championship match with a three-set semifinal win over Belinda Bencic earlier on Friday.
"It is going to be a really tough battle, I would say," Bertens stated. "We have had great battles in the past. She loves clay. She loves to play here as well. She won it already twice. I love it also here. So I think it is just going to be a great battle and yeah, I'm looking forward to it."
Bertens’ heavy hitting put her out front swiftly, as she broke the Stephens serve in the opening game, then fended off four break points in the subsequent game to lead 2-0. The Dutchwoman’s powerful game served her well as the opening game progressed, breaking Stephens again for 4-1 after three consecutive points ended with fierce forehand winners.
Stephens nearly let another service game slip away as she slid from 40-0 to deuce, but the American used her beautiful backhands to hold for 5-2 and keep the opener going. Serving for the set, Bertens fired a double fault to put her at 30-30, but the majority of the points went her way after stellar serves, and she closed out the set with relative ease.
It was the American who rebounded and broke through first in the second set, as she fired a big backhand winner down the line to take a 4-2 lead. But the momentum Stephens obtained was immediately thwarted when she dropped serve in the following game with a double fault.
Still, the second set stayed much more competitive than the opening stanza, and supreme depth of shot from Stephens gave her a golden opportunity at 5-4, garnering her three consecutive set points at 0-40. But Bertens stayed steely and methodically hit her way out of trouble, moving to game point, where she slammed a down-the-line forehand winner for an essential hold for 5-5.
"I think my serve helped me a lot already this year," Bertens said. "Today, again, I think I saved a lot of breakpoints, also the set points with my serve, so of course that helps a lot with the confidence."
Bertens then put the hammer down in the next game, as she broke for a 6-5 lead with an error-forcing backhand on break point. The Dutchwoman completed her second-set fight by successfully serving out the match without fuss, booking her spot in the Madrid final once more.