CINCINNATI, OH, USA -- World No.17 Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands staged a remarkable comeback win to claim the biggest title of her career at the Western & Southern Open on Sunday, saving a championship point to overcome World No.1 Simona Halep of Romania, 2-6, 7-6(6), 6-2 and hoist the trophy in Cincinnati.
"I think I didn't have really a good time to get nervous, because I was just so tired," Bertens said with a smile, during her post-match press conference. "I think it was such a tough match, and after winning that second set I knew, like, anything is still possible."
The incredible year of Bertens continued with her second title of 2018, following her championship run in Charleston during the spring. The Dutchwoman evaded a match point in the second-set tiebreak before emerging triumphant in two hours and five minutes after a dominant deciding set.
"I had a chat with [coach] Raemon [Sluiter] at 2-1 [in the third set] and I was, like, 'I'm dead,'" Bertens admitted. "Then I said to myself, 'No, I can do this. Let's go for it.'"
"I was, like, 'Yeah, I know this feeling,'" Bertens elaborated. "I had this feeling before in the practices. So I know that I can keep on going. It's for a title, so of course you can always give a little extra and just go for it. And that's what I did."
Bertens extended a staggering streak against Top 10 players with the victory, claiming her eighth win in her last eight meetings against players in that cohort -- but this was her first-ever win over a World No.1, in her first-ever hardcourt singles final.
Halep was aiming to become the first woman to win the Premier 5-level Rogers Cup and Western Southern Open titles back-to-back, but saw her match-winning streak end at nine. Halep fell to 0-3 in Cincinnati finals, having also lost in the championship match in 2015 and 2017.
"We played many rallies, and it was very physical match, that's why the end I couldn't make it anymore," said Halep, after the match. "But [Bertens] played really well, and she really deserves to win this title, because her level was very high."
Big-serving Bertens won 72 percent of points on her first serve, and had 34 winners to Halep's 23. Halep broke Bertens as many times as vice versa -- four breaks for each player -- but could only claim 45 percent of points on her second serve, as the top-ranked player from the Netherlands attacked that shot more and more as the match wore on.
"In the beginning, I knew that I had to play aggressive, but I was a little bit doubting sometimes, like where should I hit, because [Halep's] such a great mover also on the court," Bertens continued. "I think in the second set I had that feeling a little bit more, like, where I could attack her serve or where I could play a little bit more forward coming to the net. The second and the third I was more feeling that."
Halep opened the match with a break after an error-prone Bertens popped a handful of forehands long to hand over the initial game. Bertens was in the mix on Halep’s next two service games, but was never able to reach break point as the top seed eased to a 3-1 lead.
Midway through the set, the Romanian began to dominate, unloading on aggressive forehands with power and depth to take command in rallies. A love hold at 4-2, ending with a forehand winner landing square on the baseline, epitomized her strength in the opening frame.
Another quick break of Bertens gave Halep the opportunity to serve for the one-set lead at 5-2. Bertens finally claimed her first break point of the match after Halep sent a forehand miscue long, but a trio of serves, each one different from the last, flummoxed the Dutchwoman into missed returns, thereby allowing Halep to recover the game and close out the set.
But Bertens refused to succumb after the quick opening set, and she and Halep played a scintillating, closely-contested second set. The Dutchwoman ramped up her aggressive play on return from the outset, holding three break points in the first game, and finally claiming her first break of the match in Halep’s next service game to lead 3-1.
Despite falling behind 1-4, Halep continued to fight for the set, and clawed her way back on serve by breaking Bertens as the Dutch player served at 4-2. Halep then had a break point at 4-4, which, if converted, would have given her a chance to serve for the match at 5-4, but she netted her service return, and Bertens reached 5-4 instead.
Bertens was often rewarded by her persistent aggression, and she reached set point in that game when her strong backhand rolled over the net after clipping the tape. But Halep persevered and held on for 5-5, as the players inexorably moved towards the tiebreak, which commenced after two love holds.
Bertens used powerful serving to take the initial mini-break lead and race to 5-3, but a Halep forehand forced an error from Bertens on the next point, and the Romanian reclaimed parity at 5-5 after a long Bertens forehand. On the following point, Bertens hit a deep service return to start the rally well, but then netted a forehand, giving Halep a 6-5 lead, and championship point.
However, a huge Bertens crosscourt forehand forced an error wide from Halep, tying the breaker at 6-6. Halep faded in the rallies in the next two points, and after the World No.1 netted a forehand at 7-6, Bertens had won three points in a row to extricate herself from a dire position and send the match into a decider.
After the pair exchanged breaks to start the final set, Bertens finally wrested control of the match away from Halep, who had played and won nine straight matches in the last two weeks. Bertens claimed a third break of the set to lead 2-1, then blasted forehands beyond the reach of the top seed to claim a love break for 4-1.
A fabulous tweener by Halep helped to set up double break point in the next game, but Bertens was unbowed, powering through to hold for 5-1. Halep took care of her delivery in the next game, putting the pressure on Bertens to serve out the match. The Dutch player fended off a final break point, and closed out the match for her first hardcourt title.
"Winning a title like this, my first hardcourt title, and then against No. 1 of the world, getting my career high on Monday," Bertens exclaimed. "I don't know. It's just coming everything together, I guess."