Singapore | Bertens beats Kerber in fourth underdog fightback
The top seed, Angelique Kerber may be the most experienced in the Red Group at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, but she let go of a vicelike grip on her opening match to tumble alongside the three other top seeds in action thus far.
I was fist pumping so much that I got some cramps in the arm! Maybe not great, but it was just really exciting to win this match. I think there was a lot of stress during the match, so maybe not too good for the body. Tomorrow is a day to recover, so that's great. And then I will be ready again on Wednesday. Kiki Bertens
Kerber is the top seed by virtue of Simona Halep’s withdrawal with an on-going back injury, and is placed in a group that, for the first time, contains all the debutantes in Singapore.
While the German has not been at her best at times this year, she rose to the occasion by winning Wimbledon and was surely expected to clear the group stage.
The only player in the field over 30, she faced Kiki Bertens, who thought she had missed her chance to make the cut for Singapore after an early exit in Moscow, in the second Red Group match on Monday evening.
Kerber usually has the measure of Bertens, but only by a slim margin, and surprisingly her latest win was on her least favourite surface of clay.
The German raced off to a flying start and, in the early exchanges, Kerber looked to be in total control as she leapt out to a 3-1 lead.
She added another break, and deflected three break points to take the first set on her third set point, 6-1.
While the rallies were tense affairs, both plied their craft, and it looked as if Kerber was well on her way to an opening win when she scored an early break at the start of the second set.
While Bertens’ best results may have been on the clay, she has shown this year that she can adapt it to the other surfaces and is feared as somewhat of a giant-killer.
She settled gradually into her task in the second set, showing herself to be a remarkable fighter.
The Dutchwoman, who has caused Kerber headaches before, found her way not only back into the match to level at 2-2, but to push for a break at the end of the set and, with no difficulty, in closing it out to take it into a decider.
She was slowly and steadily working her way under Kerber’s skin and the decider proved to be tight, with 7 straight breaks of serve, but it was Bertens who came out ahead, consolidating for a 5-3 lead.
Kerber held her serve love hold, but Bertens pushed her onto her back foot enough to close out the match and score the win on her debut with some style, 1-6 6-3 6-4.
Going to meet the press quickly afterwards, Kerber acknowledged the loss as a set-back, but she also knows the format well enough to realise there is plenty of room to improve ahead of her match with Naomi Osaka.
“I know that I have to win my next matches, but I have still chances so it’s not that I’m out of the tournament,” the German reflected.
“But of course, I know that I have to play like I start the match, like in the first set, and trying to playing my two sets like this. I know that it is there. I just have to play more consistent.”
Bertens closed out a rout from the four lower seeds, three of them newcomers to the tournament, after Osaka was beaten also in three sets by Sloane Stephens.
On Sunday, Karolina Pliskova had beaten Caroline Wozniacki and Elina Svitolina had dispatched Petra Kvitova, both in straight sets to start the trend.
Bertens credited coach Raemon Sluiter with helping her to adjust after their initial game plan was not working and nerves gripped her.
“Before the match it was the plan to just try to play aggressive where I can but not rush too much,” she said. “So just try to play the rally and see how it goes.
“Then I called him already in the first set. And then more the plan was just hang in there, try to be tough, just play some more rallies and then see.
“But I was making so many mistakes, so that didn’t work out. And then, like, the third one finally worked better.
“Really, like in the beginning when you play like this, I was really thinking, okay, do I belong here? I’m playing so bad and all that kind of stuff.
“To just start playing more aggressive like what I did, that’s not really like how I normally play my matches.”
Although she finished the match with 45 unforced errors, the 33 winners she hit more than made up the difference as she continued to play better on key points.
Serving late in the third set, she dug out of a 0-40 deficit to consolidate her lead en route to victory.
“I think that’s one thing I can be really proud of today, that I turned that match around, that I played more aggressive, going a little bit out of my comfort zone and to get a win.
“I’ll do everything to win here, and that’s what we’re gonna do for the next match, and hopefully I feel good then.”
Finishing up with the media a little before 1:30AM local time, the 8th seed sheepishly admitted to an injury she is sure will heal in time for her next meeting with 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens.
“I was fist pumping so much that I got some cramps in the arm!” Bertens laughed.m“Maybe not great, but it was just really exciting to win this match.
“I think there was a lot of stress during the match, so maybe not too good for the body.
“Tomorrow is a day to recover, so that’s great. And then I will be ready again on Wednesday.”
The order of play for Tuesday reverts to the White Group when Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki (2) takes on Petra Kvitova (4) from the Czech Republic, and Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina (6) plays another Czech, Karolina Pliskova (7).