MADRID, Spain - Raemon Sluiter joins the WTA Insider Podcast after watching Kiki Bertens bulldoze through a tough draw at the Mutua Madrid Open to win the biggest title of her career, defeating Simona Halep 6-4, 6-4 in the final.
A finalist in Madrid last year, Bertens defeated Katerina Siniakova, Jelena Ostapenko, Anastasija Sevastova, defending champion Petra Kvitova, 2018 Roland Garros finalist Sloane Stephens, and reigning Roland Garros champion Simona Halep to win her first Premier Mandatory title. Bertens became the first woman to ever win Madrid without losing a set and on Monday she will become the highest-ranked Dutchwoman ever, making her Top 5 debut at No.4.
Sluiter reflects on what clicked this week for Bertens in Madrid and how she plays her best tennis when she silences the doubts and lets her superior tennis IQ take over.
Hear both Sluiter and Bertens discuss their dream week in Madrid below:
WTA Insider: What are you the proudest of with what Kiki was able to do this week?
Sluiter: For me, it's how she dealt with every single situation this week. Playing a final somewhere like last year says in general two things, that you feel good somewhere, but it also brings a little bit of pressure of defending points and the way she has dealt with that was very good. She probably thought about it but thought okay but I'm playing well. I like to play here.
So she countered the demons and that's what she did before the tournament and that's what she did in a lot of situations in matches. And that's what I'm most proud of.
WTA Insider: She was outperforming herself on nearly every statistical metric this week. What is the one thing you see from her that when she's doing it well, indicates it might be a good week?
Sluiter: It's not like that I feel that coming by some kind of statistic. It's more that I see that she's doing the right things.
I just know that she needs to have a result pretty quick doing the right things. She can go one or two times for whatever I think is the right shot. But if it's the third time and she misses it like this and I clap like that's a good shot then she goes are you f*****g crazy? That's not a good shot because I missed it.
This week it just clicked. She accepted a few good misses and then she followed it up right away with doing the same thing, doing the right thing, at least in my eyes, and then it worked score-wise and I think that gave her the confidence that she needed to pull off such a huge result.
WTA Insider: She finished the tournament with three big wins, beating Kvitova, then Sloane, which seemed like a big mental effort, and then Halep.
Sluiter: Sloane was maybe a little bit out of gas with not playing so many matches recently and been struggling this year and then you probably gain confidence. But she looked flat in that match, which I think more or less gave Kiki the feeling like Sloane is feeling flat, I really need to win this one now.
That's one of the other things that she sometimes has a tendency to do that. But especially on the big points she was doing the right things and that was just great to see.
WTA Insider: How did you gameplan for playing Halep?
Sluiter: Kiki's very smart. We talk before the match a little bit, maybe not more than two minutes. I let her talk, how she sees the match, how she feels it. And then I add two things that I think are important to know, which is more like a detail thing, like if I'm pretty sure that somebody has a tendency to serve somewhere on breakpoints or has a tendency to do something with the ball I'll bring it in. But 90% of this stuff she's also doing herself like she's doing everything on the court herself.
WTA Insider: When you come down for an on-court coaching timeout, it seems like it's more about reassurance.
Sluiter: Yeah, with the on-court coaching we do it is that 9 out of 10 times I let her speak first, how she feels about things. Against Sloane it was so tense that I felt like I had to take over a little bit. But in general, she comes up with the right stuff.
Today was one of those examples that she struggled in the beginning. Simona was on top of things. And Kiki was struggling a little, still doing well to hang in there. I added a few things in the first coaching timeout.
But the second time out, and it doesn't happen that often, I was lost for words. Because she was doing all the right things. And of course you're not gonna get the result every point because you're gonna miss sometimes and you're playing one of the best players on the tour. So you would think that they can also play a little bit, which sometimes the girls have a hard time acknowledging because sometimes it is just too good. It's much easier to just clap and go away and say 'too good' instead of what am I doing wrong? You're not doing so much wrong. The other one can play tennis as well.
So the second time out was like that. I said you're doing everything right. Keep the intensity up. There was absolutely from my point of view nothing to add. So it was more or less like asking for confirmation. Am I doing the right things? Yes, you are.
WTA Insider: You and Kiki did an interview together earlier this year for the website where you were asked what Kiki's greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses are. You said her greatest strength is her versatility, and her greatest weakness is she doesn't always believe it. Can you elaborate on that?
Sluiter: Like today for example, she hits a drop shot in the second game of the match. She hits good drop shots. She misses it on the tape. Maybe it was not exactly the right choice. We can debate all evening on that but it was close. It was there and she almost made it. And then there were no drop shots coming for three or four games. So that was something that I told her in the coaching timeout.
This is exactly one of these things. She has this shot. It's not like it's not in my bag today. Of course there are days that you feel one stroke better than the other one. But identity as a player is the one thing you can hold on to when things get tight and excited. Who you are as a person and as a player.
She's getting stronger by that, but that was the struggle for her today. What is wrong with my serve, she asked at 3-2. What is wrong with your serve? We are playing on altitude so you know you're just hitting it a little bit long. Try to get on top of things a little bit more. Novak is missing second serve returns that he hasn't missed for the whole year, but it's altitude here so he misses it also a little bit long.
And then she has, which is absolutely normal if you play in a stadium like that and crowds like that, a little bit too much panic to figure it out herself. Because if we would be watching it from the outside she would say oh, she's hitting the serve well, she's going a bit long.
It was for me the most interesting part when I worked in the beginning with Kiki and I also worked with Richel Hogenkamp, working with them together. And Richel is another girl who sees the game extremely well. Richel would be watching Kiki and Kiki would be watching Richelle. I would be sitting next to them and I would go like, hey, when this whole tennis thing is over maybe consider coaching because for as far as I can tell you see this really well.
But then the decisions on the court sometimes were a little bit different. Like hey, OK, but we were sitting and watching this match yesterday and this is not what you said. So Kiki just knows all this stuff. It's just still one big movement of trusting herself just a little bit more.
WTA Insider: She's just won Madrid and she'll be No.4 in the world. She's going to be under the spotlight and under pressure with Paris around the corner. How do you manage things the next few weeks?
Sluiter: There's not much to manage actually because you're No.4 in the world and you just won Madrid. So there's no way around it. I can pat myself on the back pretty good in working my way around it. It's not possible anymore. We talked about that.
This week should give her confidence. Giving her confidence doesn't mean that she's going to do well in Rome and gonna do well in Paris. But it should give her confidence that OK when things get excited, when it gets tough, I'm there and I'm gonna do the right things. It's not always gonna work but we saw this week and we've seen other weeks that she can that, that she's fully capable of that. And that's the thing that she's gonna need to take from this week to stay at the level where she's at.
WTA Insider: Results are obviously important, but learning over time to divorce the result from how well you played is hard. How has been her development been on that since you've been working with her?
Sluiter: Well everything has gotten so much smaller. In the big picture, bad results were taking days, sometimes even weeks to come back from. Bad shots in the match could take games, sometimes sets, sometimes matches. And that is gone. It happens and it happens to every tennis player that you make a wrong decision and it will follow for maybe a few more shots.
But everything is getting smaller and smaller and smaller. She's dealing with every situation better and better. For me that's the most important thing. She can lose matches and I can really be just as happy and sometimes even happier than when she wins a match.
For example, last year when she came from the finals here and she was tired and going to Rome playing Sakkari who's one of the toughest competitors on tour. They played a great three-set match and Maria won it 6-4 in the third and I was almost more proud with that performance than making finals here. Because if you can keep those things up that is going to bring you in the situation that she's in now.