Dutch surprise Kiki Bertens saved a championship point before earning a shock Cincinnati Masters final triumph 2-6 7-6(6) 6-2 over a fatigued world number one Simona Halep on Sunday. “I cannot find words for this moment.
I’m so happy,” a tearful Bertens, the first Dutch player (man or woman) to reach the Cincinnati singles final, said on court. She claimed her first ever victory over a world number one and her sixth consecutive triumph over a top-10 opponent.
Playing in her first final on hardcourt, she ended a nine-match winning streak by Halep, who lost in the Cincinnati final for the third time. I hope I didn't ruin everything with this match because I feel like I did some wrong things on the court, but I hate to lose.
It's tough to manage that moment,” said the world No.1 The Romanian, making her seventh main draw appearance at Cincinnati where she had reached the finals in 2015 and 2017, dominated the first set, taking the final three games.
Halep came in Cincinnati as the first singles player to qualify for the WTA Finals in Singapore, although she was later forced to withdraw. She received a bye through the Western & Open first round and needes two days to complete her rain-delayed second round match with Tomljanovic, completing her 11th consecutive win against qualifiers dating back to 2016 Stuttgart (l.
Siegemund). She defeated Barty in straight sets to advance to the seventh quarterfinal in her past eight tournaments and followed it up with a win over Tsurenko in the evening. In the semifinal, she beat Sabalenka in straight sets in the eighth semifinal this season to celebrate her career 450th match win at all levels.
Halep, who came to the match owning a 15-4 record against Top 20 ranked opponents since the beginning of the year, aimed to be the first woman to win the Premier 5 level-Rogers Cup and Western Southern Open titles back-to-back, and the first Romanian to win the title here in Cincinnati since Magda Rurac in 1949.
“At that point I was, like, Okay, the way I'm playing right now, it's not really working,” admitted the Dutch, projected to rise at No.13 in the WTA rankings. “I had to run too much on the court, and she's, like, really good at that.
So I was, like, Okay, there is only one chance and you have to play a little bit more aggressive, go a little bit more for your returns and for your serve and, yeah, that was working”. In the beginning, she went on, “I knew that I had to play aggressive, but I was -- yeah, I was a little bit doubting sometimes, like where should I hit? Because she's such a great mover also on the court,” said Bertens.
“I think in the second set I had that feeling a little bit more, like, where I could attack her serve or where I could play a little bit more forward coming to the net”. Using that tactic, she was able to take a 4-1 lead before Halep fought back to level and earned herself the match point in the tiebreak.
Bertens, making her fourth main draw appearance at Cincinnati, opened her campaign ousting No.24 Vandeweghe in the first round. After her seventh victory in nine clashes against Americans in 2018, she defeated No.2 Wozniacki after the Dane retired with a left knee injury, then she went on to upset Kontaveit and Svitolina.
One of the six players to pass the 200-ace mark at that point of the season, she overcame Kvitova to seal the ninth Top 10 win in 2018 and advance to the third singles final of the season after Charleston (Won) and Madrid (Runner-Up).
Halep looked increasingly fatigued as the match went on. “Yeah, but I had match ball. So I was there. Didn't take my chance,” she admitted after the match. A gutsy forehand by Bertens forced an error wide from Halep, tying the breaker at 6-6.
After Halep then netted a forehand at 7-6, Bertens won her third straight point to send the match into a decider. The pair exchanged breaks to start the final set. The world No.1, despite a 16-3 win-loss record in deciding sets since the beginning of the season, conceded a second consecutive break to give Bertens the lead at 2-1.
“And then I had a chat with Raemon at 2-1 and I was, like, I'm dead. He's, like, looking at me. Then I said to myself, No, I can do this. Let's go for it,” said Bertens. “So it was just nice to sit down and have a moment with him at that time”.
The Dutch blasted forehands beyond the reach of Halep to claim a decisive love break at 4-1. We played many rallies, and it was a very physical match. That's why the end I couldn't make it anymore,” said Halep.
“I was also -- I can say I gave up because I didn't have energy left. But she played really well, and she really deserves to win that, this title, because her level was very high”. Bertens served the sixth ace to finish the contest after an absorbing two hours and five minutes, becoming the last unseeded player to win the title since Zvonareva in 2006.
Just after the final, she embraced her coach Raemon Sluiter. He confessed they repeatedly talked to change their approach, to make their work more open and relaxed and give Kiki more space in the decision-making process. “I was just, like, crying.
I don't know. I was so tired, and I didn't really know how I did this. Winning such a big event, it was, like, such a great feeling”. More than a feeling.