Top seed Kiki Bertens’ round robin journey in Zhuhai has been duplicating her recent draw in Beijing when, 3 weeks ago, the Dutchwoman defeated Donna Vekic 3-6 6-1 7-6(3) in the first round and Dayana Yastremska 7-6(5) 6-3 in the second round on the way to the semi-finals in the Chinese capital.
But I think every match I'm just like, OK, maybe this is your last match of the season - so just give everything, and that's what I did. Kiki Bertens
This week, she has already re-affirmed her Vekic win, 7-6(5) 6-2, and, on Thursday, she held off Yastremska to win the Azalea Group.
The experience in Beijing, Bertens said, had helped her strategically to win Zhuhai: “Changing the rhythm, I think that’s what she doesn’t like,” she remarked of her opponent
“She really likes that every ball is coming at the same height, at the same pace, so just throwing in some slices, I think she’s really struggling with that – I saw that already in Beijing and I think today again.
“So I think that’s what I normally do already, but I think that against players like Dayana, even more.”
The Ukrainian put up a good fight, but went down in straight sets, 6-4 6-3, in just under an hour and a half, putting Bertens into the semi-finals of the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai for the first time.
In the last singles match of Day 3, it was a winner-takes-all contest between the No 10 and 24th players in the world.
With both players having beaten No 8 seed Donna Vekic in straight sets this week already, the final round-robin match of the Azalea Group was crucial to both but it was Bertens came out on top, dealing expertly with her 19-year old opponent’s pace.
Yastremska struggled on serve in the opening stages, committing 4 double faults in her first 3 service games to get broken twice, and leaving her playing catch-up for the duration of the set.
The Ukrainian also struck her fair share of dazzling points, including a reflex backhand volley which paved the way to her getting one of the breaks back, and using her fierce forehand, mixed in with slice.
A winning drop-shot helped her to level the score at 4-4, but Bertens’ ability to withstand scoreboard pressure proved critical.
The Dutchwoman, playing from far behind the baseline, demonstrated the strength, consistency and anticipation needed to patiently soak up all of Yastremska’s pace.
Eventually she managed to draw the error, even in the longer rallies that found the 19-year-old displaying more patience than usual, and despite the Yastremska fightback, this strategy would pay off as Bertens ground out 4 straight games, breaking twice to take the first set and move up 2-0 in the second.
Yastremska continued to compete valiantly, making inroads into Bertens’ serve throughout the remainder of the set with more stunning winners, including a pair of excellent volleys that earned her a break-back point in the 8th game.
The World No 10, though, was simply too solid, able to call on her formidable serve to back up her tenacious defence.
Bertens extricated herself from the potential turning point with a brace of service winners, before breaking again for the win as a frustrated Yastremska’s forehand broke down and the youngster committed her 5th double fault at down match point.
Having played every week since the US Open across two continents, Bertens said she was ‘just really proud and happy’ at how she has held up physically so far in Zhuhai, although she also is somewhat surprised.
“I feel like my body’s falling apart,” she laughed. “But I think every match I’m just like, OK, maybe this is your last match of the season – so just give everything, and that’s what I did.”