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 wish to be on the large stage,” Bertens recalled in an interview. “Going into that match, I used to be solely hoping to get just a few 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 stated. “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 lots.”

Heading into the French Open, which begins Sunday, Bertens is the oddsmakers’ second favourite to win the event, 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, stated that Bertens started to compete with the perfect after she shook off her complacency.

“Kiki is in a course of of adjusting from the woman who was already blissful being ranked 70th or 60th, and that was the place she belonged,” Sluiter stated. “Then to a lady who made high 50 and that was the place she belonged, to high 20 and that was the place she belonged, and now a lady within the high 10, the place she belonged — and even up. You have to provide any individual time. But time shouldn’t be actually in your facet in case you are knowledgeable tennis participant, so every thing 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 could be a burden,” he stated. “It’s robust as a result of it’s a must to determine it out in your tennis life in such a brief area. That fast-forward button must be pushed in on a regular basis, and we tend to neglect that.”

Bertens has certainly been racking up titles rapidly, profitable 4 prior to now 12 months: the Madrid Open this month, which was her sixth title on clay, and her first three WTA titles on exhausting courts, in Cincinnati, Seoul and St. Petersburg.

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

She stated that after her victory in Cincinnati, “each event 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 stated.

Bertens was once O.Ok. 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 stated.

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

“One of the most important issues I discover about her is that she seems healthier now than she did just a few years in the past,” top-ranked Naomi Osaka stated. “She simply seems actually robust. That helps her movement-wise, for certain, simply type 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 in opposition to 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 thrice, with a semifinal run on the French Open in 2016 standing out as her peak.

Sluiter stated Bertens’s observe document of regular success at tour occasions ought to be capable of give her the idea that she will translate her recreation onto larger phases.

“She can take loads of belief and braveness from the best way she dealt with all these conditions earlier than, which she thought she would by no means deal with,” he stated. “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 probably the most achieved rivals are hardly ever certain bets to win the titles for which they appear positioned on paper.

“If you’re a bit off otherwise you’re not feeling the ball otherwise you’re feeling tight, there are perhaps 50 women who can beat you on that day,” Sluiter stated. “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 event, however we see it in perspective.”

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

“I additionally nonetheless know that I can lose in opposition to anybody,” Bertens stated. “That’s how tennis is typically: You can have good days, you’ll be able to have dangerous days, your opponents can play rather well. I do know all the opposite women can play rather well; everybody’s working actually exhausting to get right here. I do know I can do it, however I additionally know the opposite women can do it. I’m simply making an attempt to do my finest, and we’ll see if it’s sufficient or not.”

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