Sluiter was candid in discussing Bertens’ struggles, not to mention the aching pain and frustration — completely out of her control — of falling ill at Roland Garros earlier this year, when she was a top-tier contender for the title.
Bertens — ever since winning Cincinnati last year — became more of a target on the WTA Tour. She was impressive at the 2018 WTA Finals in Singapore and entered 2019 as a player who could realistically contend for huge trophies.
Given the landscape of the WTA as a place where anything is possible in an individual tournament, Bertens’ 2019 has fallen well short of what it could have been. I won’t say “should have been,” because Roland Garros had nothing to do with her tennis. Illness, like injury, prevents players from being judged on their merits.
Bertens is the victim of bad luck as much as anything else.
That said, it’s not as though her tennis is completely irrelevant to this discussion.
Bertens thrived in Madrid (again) and lived up to her billing as one of the top clay-court players in the world. On the other surfaces, however, the magic hasn’t happened. Bertens has spent much of the year absorbing difficult losses and not finding the range which marked her 2018 tournaments in Cincinnati and Singapore.
As she arrived in Beijing, no one in the women’s tennis community thought, “Watch out for Bertens! She is one of the most dangerous threats in the draw.”
No, Bertens was — compared to the other seeded players in the draw — a relatively minor threat. Not much was expected of her. She was off the radar.
Much as Aryna Sabalenka came to Wuhan a week ago and turned a tough season from a burdensome slog into a revived search of opportunity, Bertens has now managed to do the same thing. This can be said regardless of what happens in her semifinal against Ashleigh Barty in Beijing.
By beating Elina Svitolina in straight sets, taking out one of the two women to make multiple major semifinals this year (Serena Williams is the other), Kiki Bertens has gone through the process Sabalenka happily experienced in Wuhan: She has forged a moment which makes a quality athlete say to herself, “Hey, I can still play big-league ball! I can still do this!”
Bertens needed to have that experience. She also needed a point-producing win which could push her closer to the top eight and the WTA Finals in Shenzhen.
Kiki Bertens is not an irrelevant player. On a deep WTA Tour, lots of players are relevant to the chase for meaningful high-end results and important championships. Yet, Kiki Bertens had certainly fallen to the back of the line among these relevant players.
Now she moved to the middle of the line, with the front in sight.
That is what Bertens achieved with this win over Svitolina in China.
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