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Kiki Bertens column: Australian Open run gives optimism for French Open

Kiki Bertens is the latest WTA Tour star to feature in a BBC Sport column. In her final piece at the Australian Open, the Dutch ninth seed discusses her fourth-round exit to Garbine Muguruza, why she has added motivation going into her favourite Slam at the French Open and solving puzzles in escape room games.

Starting the new season by reaching the last 16 at the Australian Open makes me very positive for the year ahead, even though I’m bitterly disappointed not to go further.

Last year I didn’t get the results in the Grand Slams that I hoped for, I didn’t get past the third round at any of the four majors.

This was my best run at Melbourne and my best run on a hard court Slam.

So, even after losing to Garbine Muguruza in the fourth round, I will take these things as a big positive.

We have a lot of tournaments to go before the next Slam – the French Open at the end of May – but I am already looking forward to that because clay is my natural surface.

I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself at Roland Garros, but I have added motivation after what happened there last year.

I was the fourth seed and playing really well going into the tournament, having won the Madrid Open and also reaching the semi-finals in Rome and Stuttgart.

Then I woke up at 3am on the morning before my second-round match and was vomiting all morning before I played Viktoria Kuzmova.

I tried to play but I had no energy and had to retire after four games.

Things like that show you never know what is going to happen over a long two weeks at a Slam.

Of course, I try to do my best every single week and every single tournament but I love playing on clay so Roland Garros is my favourite Grand Slam.

But first I have the Fed Cup to play with the Dutch team and then I go to St Petersburg to defend my title.

So there is a lot to focus on first!

Kiki Bertens posted on Instagram that she was “arriving with a smile, leaving with a smile”

‘I wasn’t allowed to play my best by Garbine’

A loss is always tough on me, so of course I am disappointed at losing to Garbine. I didn’t play my best.

Garbine played a really good match and her levels were very high, which meant I wasn’t allowed to play my best.

She put so much pressure on me in every single game, even my service games, and her returns were really good.

That meant I had to play more aggressively and then I made too many mistakes.

But I had to play this way because otherwise she could step in on every single shot and she did that really well.

I didn’t really have the balance right. Sometimes I wasn’t aggressive enough and she could step in. Then the next point I was saying ‘I have to do it more’ but then that led to mistakes.

I was really searching for the right balance but that was not there.

I broke at the start of the first set but against Garbine you also know when you have a break against her it sometimes doesn’t really matter.

It is always tough to back those breaks up because you know her returns are so good that so she puts so much pressure on every one of your service games.

Other than that game and the second game of the second set when I broke back, she didn’t give much away on her serve.

Her first-serve percentage was pretty high and I could not really see where the serve was going. Her variety was very good and it was tough to read.

I hate losing tennis matches, I hate losing in everything I do.

But when I look back overall at the Australian swing I can be happy. I played some really good matches in Brisbane too so I’m going home to the Netherlands feeling positive and ready for the Fed Cup.

Bertens lost 6-3 6-3 to Garbine Muguruza (right)

‘The strength of depth on the tour is incredible’

I’m not sure how close to her best Garbine is but she is playing really well.

We will see if she is able to sustain her form but we know she is capable of doing it over two weeks at a Grand Slam having won Roland Garros in 2016 and Wimbledon a year later.

However, things can change so quickly for a player – especially at a Slam.

I’m not sure if she is the favourite or not. It is still wide open.

That’s reflective of the strength in depth of the women’s game, you can see that over the past two years because we’ve had so many different winners of tournaments.

It’s incredible. Every tournament anyone can win. So that means I couldn’t pick a winner here!

Escape rooms and coffee chats – how I relax in Melbourne

As I told you in one of my earlier columns, I love doing escape rooms and we finally managed to play before I left Melbourne!

It’s a game where you’re in a hidden room and have to solve a number of puzzles within a certain amount of time to ‘escape’.

We had two teams – the girls against the guys – and we won! We only had two minutes left after 15 minutes in there so we were really excited we did it just in time.

Our team included Julia Gorges, the German player who is one of my best friends on the tour, Dutch doubles player Demi Schuurs and my coach Elise Tamaela. On the guys side was my husband Remko and some of our other Dutch and Belgian friends.

I love games so we always play cards and board games to relax when we’re on tour. I’m competitive with everything I do!

So that’s the same with the escape rooms, I love the competitive part of it and I like to solve puzzles.

Most of the time I do escape from the room!

Other than that, Julia and I also like to catch up over coffee – and there are plenty of cool coffee places in Melbourne.

It is a shame I won’t be here for the rest of week to experience the city more but I’m looking forward to coming back next year.

Kiki Bertens was talking to BBC Sport’s Jonathan Jurejko at Melbourne Park.

Article courtesy of BBC Sport
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