‘S-HERTOGENBOSCH, Netherlands - Hometown hero Kiki Bertens gave Dutch fans plenty to cheer about on Tuesday as she powered her way into the second round of the Libema Open.
Bertens arrived at her home tournament in the Netherlands after recording a solid clay season at the WTA level, lifting the trophy in Madrid - her biggest title to date - and bracketing that achievement with semifinal runs at Stuttgart and Rome.
Having already reached the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2016, Bertens was a favorite to make another deep run at this year’s Grand Slam. But her plans were derailed just a few games into the second round, where she was tearfully forced to retire against Viktoria Kuzmova due to gastrointestinal illness.
“I was five days in bed [after Roland Garros], so physically it wasn’t the best preparation for grass,” Bertens explained. “But I had so many days so I could still recover well, and so today there was no issue. My body is feeling good again.”
But back on home soil, No.1 seed Bertens proved that she’s back to full health and in lethal form, dropping just four games against her former doubles partner Johanna Larsson, 6-3, 6-1.
“It’s always tough to play a good friend, in front of the home crowd, and then the first match on grass, top seed here,” Bertens said, smiling after her victory. “It was a little bit tough conditions here for me, but I felt good to day on court and I’m just happy with the win.”
After a tentative start, both players feeling out each other’s level, it was Bertens who surged ahead, leaving Larsson looking shellshocked as her opponent notched back-to-back breaks of serve to lead 5-1. Larsson halted Bertens’ run of five games in a row with a statement hold, and capitalized on some second serve opportunities to break and extend her stay in the set to 5-3. But Bertens broke straight back herself, claiming the set on first time of asking.
Bertens continued her dominant performance into the second set, where she once again quickly got ahead with back-to-back breaks to lead 4-0.
Despite the one-sided scoreline, Larsson had Bertens under pressure more in this set, creating three chances to break across two games. But the booming Bertens serve - she has the second-highest ace count on the WTA this year - bailed her out each time, racking up seven aces and winning 82% of first serve points to take the victory.
Up next for Bertens - who has gone as far as the semifinals here back in 2015 - will be an all-Dutch second-round clash as she takes on wildcard Arantxa Rus. Rus edged past another Dutch wildcard, Bibiane Schoofs, winning 7-5, 6-4 to advance.
“She’s a tough player, of course, she’s already been the Dutch No.2 for so many years,” Bertens acknowledged. “Before, she was the Dutch No.1. She’s a lefty with an always tricky game. She likes to play here, in front of the home crowd.
“I think it’s a good, positive thing. It means at least one ‘Dutchie’ will be in the quarterfinals. So for the tournament I think it’s a great matchup.”