After surviving a difficult first round tie against Donna Vekic, Kiki Bertens faces another tough challenge at the China Open on Monday as she takes on swashbuckling Ukrainian, Dayana Yastremska in the second round.
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Bertens is looking to reach the third round in Beijing for the second straight season, as she continues her push for qualification for the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore.
Bertens, who made the last four at the year-end tournament in Singapore last season, is currently 10th on the Race to Shenzhen, with the top eight qualifying for the prestigious meet.
Given her form in the first half of the season, Bertens might have expected to be much closer to Shenzhen by this time of the year, but her form has tapered off in the last couple of months, with the Dutchwoman failing to win consecutive matches since the US Open. This her fourth tournament since she made the third round at Flushing Meadows.
Bertens has peaked at No. 4 in 2019, having produced title runs in St. Petersburg and Madrid, reached finals in s-Hertogenbosch and Palermo, and made semi-finals in Sydney, Stuttgart, Rome and Eastbourne, but the results have dried up since the switch to North American hard courts in August, with the 27-year-old going 5-6 since the Rogers Cup in Toronto.
She started her Asian swing with consecutive opening round losses in Zhengzhou and Osaka, but she snapped a three-match losing streak with victory over Bernarda Pera in Wuhan, only to fall to eventual champion, Aryna Sabalenka in the next round.
Bertens began her China Open campaign with a hard-fought victory over Donna Vekic, recovering from a set down, and a break down in the final set to win 3-6 6-1 7-6. The Dutchwoman served 10 aces and sent down 33 winners in total, as she recovered from 3-1 down in the deciding set to pull off the win after two hours and 20 minutes.
Can she score consecutive wins for the first time in four tournaments when she plays Yastremska on Monday?
Yastremska is looking to back up a strong quarter final run in Wuhan with another good week in Beijing, and she got off to a near perfect start, dismissing 2017 champion, Caroline Garcia 6-1 6-1 in her tournament opener on Sunday.
Yastremska had beaten Garcia in a two-hour 58-minute classic in the Strasbourg final earlier in the season, but their Beijing rematch was over inside an hour, with the teenager winning 24 of the last 31 points to canter to victory after just 55 minutes.
The 19-year-old was relatively unknown around this period last year, losing to Saisai Zheng in her Beijing opener, but it was immediately after the 2018 China Open that she embarked on this superb surge. She charged to her first title in Hong Kong, and followed it up with a semi-final in Luxembourg to finish the year inside the top 60, having being ranked outside the top-180 in January.
She has backed up those efforts with a solid 2019, rising to a career-high No. 27 in the world. The high points of her season have been title runs in Hua Hin and Strasbourg, a fourth round run at Wimbledon- the first time she’s been to the second week of a Slam- and last week’s quarter final performance in Wuhan, her first Premier level quarter final. Her Wuhan run also included a maiden top-ten win over world No. 2, Karolina Pliskova in the third round.
Yastremska is the sort of player that when she gets on a roll and is feeling confident, she is extremely difficult to stop. She looks to be in that sort of mood at the moment, and will like her chances of scoring another top-ten win against an uncertain Bertens, who hasn’t been at her best of late, and has the added pressure of needing points to stay on course for a spot in the WTA Finals.
Kiki Bertens vs Dayana Yastremska is live from Beijing on Monday, 30 September from 2:00pm local time/ 7:00pm BST