Kiki Bertens Tries to Get Used to a New Label: French Open Contender

ROME — When Kiki Bertens stepped onto Arthur Ashe Stadium 4 years in the past on the United States Open because the second-round opponent of Serena Williams, who was bidding for a Grand Slam, she felt unworthy of the event.

“I assumed I used to be actually a participant who actually didn’t prefer to be on the large stage,” Bertens recalled in an interview. “Going into that match, I used to be solely hoping to get a number of video games, and it felt like everybody was laughing at me for enjoying there.”

Bertens, then 23 and ranked 110th, pushed the top-ranked Williams right into a tiebreaker within the first set.

“Maybe I didn’t know, nonetheless, that I used to be sort of good,” Bertens mentioned. “I felt everybody else was so significantly better than I used to be, and I didn’t actually really feel like I belonged there. That has modified rather a lot.”

Heading into the French Open, which begins Sunday, Bertens is the oddsmakers’ second favourite to win the match, behind solely the defending champion Simona Halep. At No. four, Bertens is now the highest-ranked Dutchwoman in WTA historical past.

Bertens’s coach, the previous Dutch participant Raemon Sluiter, mentioned that Bertens started to compete with one of the best after she shook off her complacency.

“Kiki is in a course of of fixing from the lady who was already blissful being ranked 70th or 60th, and that was the place she belonged,” Sluiter mentioned. “Then to a lady who made prime 50 and that was the place she belonged, to prime 20 and that was the place she belonged, and now a lady within the prime 10, the place she belonged — and even up. You have to present any individual time. But time shouldn’t be actually in your aspect in case you are an expert tennis participant, so the whole lot must be sped up.”

Sluiter, whose rating peaked at No. 46, now sees the urgency of taking advantage of a profession earlier than it’s too late.

“Capability generally is a burden,” he mentioned. “It’s robust as a result of it’s a must to determine it out on your tennis life in such a brief house. That fast-forward button must be pushed in on a regular basis, and we tend to overlook that.”

Bertens has certainly been racking up titles shortly, successful 4 previously yr: the Madrid Open this month, which was her sixth title on clay, and her first three WTA titles on arduous courts, in Cincinnati, Seoul and St. Petersburg.

Heading into the French Open, which begins Sunday, Bertens is the oddsmakers’ second favourite to win the match.CreditOscar Del Pozo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

She mentioned that after her victory in Cincinnati, “each match I’m going in and I’ve the sensation that I can win it.

“I do know I can do it, and that’s a change,” she mentioned.

Bertens was once O.Okay. with making second or third rounds at tournaments.

“I imagine now that I can win tournaments, and earlier than I used to be simply hoping,” she mentioned.

Bertens backs her perception with a tireless work ethic; Sluiter mentioned she had not had one poor effort in observe since earlier than final season.

“One of the largest issues I discover about her is that she appears to be like more healthy now than she did a number of years in the past,” top-ranked Naomi Osaka mentioned. “She simply appears to be like actually sturdy. That helps her movement-wise, for certain, simply form of getting out and in of the corners.”

Among contenders for the French Open title, Bertens is uncommon in that her favourite floor is clay, which might make her extra assured in essential moments towards gamers preferring different surfaces.

Where Bertens is much less confirmed is on the Grand Slam occasions. In 27 Grand Slam appearances, Bertens has reached the second week solely 3 times, with a semifinal run on the French Open in 2016 standing out as her peak.

Sluiter mentioned Bertens’s observe file of regular success at tour occasions ought to be capable to give her the idea that she will translate her sport onto greater phases.

“She can take plenty of belief and braveness from the way in which she dealt with all these conditions earlier than, which she thought she would by no means deal with,” he mentioned. “That ought to give her confidence for what we’re speaking about, which is the previous couple of steps.”

As good as Bertens is, she is competing in an period of girls’s tennis when success sprawls throughout scores of gamers, and even essentially the most achieved opponents are hardly ever certain bets to win the titles for which they give the impression of being positioned on paper.

“If you’re just a little off otherwise you’re not feeling the ball otherwise you’re feeling tight, there are perhaps 50 ladies who can beat you on that day,” Sluiter mentioned. “That’s the case with the WTA Tour proper now. Of course I perceive the truth that she’s one of many picks to win the match, however we see it in perspective.”

For Bertens, that actuality of the tour helps her preserve overconfidence at bay.

“I additionally nonetheless know that I can lose towards anybody,” Bertens mentioned. “That’s how tennis is typically: You can have good days, you possibly can have dangerous days, your opponents can play very well. I do know all the opposite ladies can play very well; everybody’s working actually arduous to get right here. I do know I can do it, however I additionally know the opposite ladies can do it. I’m simply making an attempt to do my greatest, and we’ll see if it’s sufficient or not.”

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