Bertens currently has a slender lead on Belinda Bencic for the last place at the season-ending championships and can only be overtaken by the Swiss player should she reach the final in Moscow. With both women in the bottom half of the draw and reaching the quarterfinals, there is definite potential for a semifinal showdown with Shenzhen on the line, adding to the drama of the last WTA Premier event of the season.
While Bencic is trying to make the WTA Finals for the first time, Bertens not only played in 2018 but reached the semifinals and the world no. 8 would clearly dearly love to have the opportunity to defend those points, based on how hard she has been working over the past few weeks, bouncing back from early defeats in Zhengzhou, Osaka and Wuhan to make the semifinals in Beijing and the quarterfinals in Linz last week, where she was defeated by Coco Gauff.
With Bencic having laid down the gauntlet by coming back from a set down to win her opening match against Polona Hercog in Moscow, Bertens had to follow suit and found herself also having to come back from a set down as well as from breaks down in both the second and third sets against Kaia Kanepi. The Estonian, a six-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, is an extremely dangerous opponent and had won their only previous encounter but Bertens showed how much she has improved, on hard courts especially, in the intervening time, battling to a 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory.
It’s the eleventh time this season Bertens has made the quarterfinals or better of a WTA Tour event and the victory over Kanepi also saw the Dutch player improve to 5-0 on Russian indoor hard courts in 2019 after having won the St Petersburg Ladies Trophy title back in February.
Mladenovic has never won back-to-back matches in Moscow, but she won the solitary WTA Tour title of her career thus far in St Petersburg in February 2017, one of four finals she made during a stellar first half of that season which led to her ranking as high as world no. 10 that October – and St Petersburg was the only tournament where Mladenovic managed to make it back to the final, finishing runner-up to Petra Kvitova, in a season which saw her drop outside the world’s top 40.
Although Mladenovic snapped up coach Sascha Baijin once he was released by Naomi Osaka, and has had some good moments in 2019 – beating Osaka herself in Dubai in February, making quarterfinals in Monterrey, Istanbul, Rome, Nottingham, Washington and Linz, and the semifinals of Zhengzhou – the French player, while a tremendously high-ranked and successful doubles player, has not succeeded in breaking back into the top 40 or recovering the form she showed in the first half of 2017 when it seemed that all her potential as a singles player was finally being realized.
Still, Mladenovic has got two good wins in Moscow over Yulia Putintseva and Anastasija Sevastova – both in three sets – and it’s worth noting that she has got some excellent individual wins over top players in 2019: She’s gone 3-5 against top-10 players, beating Osaka, Ashleigh Barty and Elina Svitolina, and has also beaten the likes of Dayana Yastremska, Caroline Garcia and, last week in Linz, Donna Vekic.
Bertens and Mladenovic have played just once before, in the semifinals of the Fed Cup in 2016 when Bertens won 7-5, 6-4 in a match played on indoor clay. Playing Fed Cup tends to produce slightly different results than regular WTA Tour play, but I do believe Bertens will be able to reproduce that victory. Both women are powerful ball-strikers, but Bertens’s serve is more solid, she’s a better mover around the court, a superior defender and a more versatile player. Mladenovic does tend to produce better performances against top players, but unless she has a stellar serving day, Bertens has the tools to win points against her – and all the incentive in the world to do so, if she is to keep Bencic from snatching that WTA Finals spot out from under her nose.
Bertens vs Mladenovic Kremlin Cup tennis is live from Moscow on Friday at 12pm local/10am BST
Bertens vs Mladenovic tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Can Bertens avoid becoming Mladenovic’s fourth top-10 scalp of 2019?
Kristina Mladenovic has scored three victories over top-10 players in 2019 – can Kiki Bertens avoid becoming her fourth victim…
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