By: Nick McCarvel
It was a week to remember for Kiki Bertens at the 2018 Volvo Car Open.
After saving a match point early Saturday afternoon in a Titanic tussle with Madison Keys, the No. 12 seed from The Netherlands dropped just three games in a scorching championship match, beating Julia Goerges 6-2, 6-1 for the title.
It’s the biggest win of her career.
Bertens becomes the first Dutch woman to win the title here, and just the third player this season to win a tournament having saved match point en route.
Sunday itself was Titanic after rain wreaked havoc on the Saturday schedule. It was the first time in the tournament’s 18 year on Daniel Island that both the semifinals and final were played on the last day.
But that didn’t seem to bother Bertens. She had two match points herself in the second set against Keys in the opening match of the day, but couldn’t close, and it looked as though it would go the American’s way as she earned a match point serving for it at 5-4 in the third.
Keys couldn’t convert on her own match point, nor when she served for it again at 6-5. Bertens couldn’t be stopped from there, leading throughout the final-set tiebreak and capturing the match when a backhand from Keys found the tape, 6-4, 6-7(2), 7-6(5).
Goerges and Anastasija Sevastova would take the court next, the two locked at 4-all in the first set from when they started their semifinal on Saturday. Goerges would win the first set in a tiebreak, then use that momentum to carry through in the second and win in straights.
The final was set from there, with both players getting a two-hour break before the singles was set to begin.
It was Bertens who came out in form from the start and couldn’t be stopped. She won a long game at 4-2 for a 5-2 lead, then dropped just one of the final eight games.
Bertens not only becomes the first Dutch winner here and captures the biggest title of her career, but she also sets herself up well for a clay season that is often her strong point. She was semifinalist at the French Open in 2016 and has won all five of her career titles on the surface.
Goerges was trying to become the third German in five years to win here, after triumphs by Andrea Petkovic (2015) and Angelique Kerber (2015).
“She was too solid for me today,” Goerges said of Bertens. “This tournament showed me how tough I am mentally. I felt consistent this week, even when things weren’t going right I was focused. [But] she’s a hell of a player. If I have to lose to a player, I’m happy to lose to her today.”
Bertens was all smiles after the victory.
“I know I can play good on clay, but it was just a great feeling,” Bertens said of her form in the final. “But I think in the final Julia didn’t play her best, but still, I was just trying to play aggressive where I could, just to hit some balls in the court when she was playing, making some errors. So I think overall I did a really good job.”
Bertens dropped just one set (to Keys) over six matches, beating Veronica Cepede Royg, Aleksandra Krunic, Fanny Stollar, Alize Cornet, Keys and Goerges.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Bertens said of her effort this week. “I think I cannot really realize it yet, but I’m just so happy and proud I think of myself. It’s a great start of the clay court season, and yeah, hopefully still more to come, but this one I have already and I’m really happy with that.”
Bertens was without her usual coach, Raemon Sluiter, for the week, though she said he was watching and advising from afar. Elise Tamaela, who is Krunic’s coach, filled in in the latter part of the week.
Bertens said she had been sick earlier in the year, bruising a rib from coughing so much. She did not feel 100 percent until around Indian Wells time, making her win this week all that much more sweet.
She won a two-year subscription to a Volvo car that she got to help design herself on court. She was beaming over the prospect of driving it at home. For Sunday night, however, she planned on treating herself to a glass of wine.
Goerges, meanwhile, said she was after ice cream and sweets in downtown Charleston. She was two points from being knocked out in the first round, so even a bitter defeat in the final didn’t have her down.
“If someone said ‘You’ll be in the final,’ after my first match, I would think, ‘Ok, I’ll take it,’ because it didn’t go very well,” she said. “The way things are going with my career now, I am happy with it. Today did not go the way that I wanted, but I can say that I will be back in Charleston.”
One would expect Bertens to be, as well, still just 26 years old and likely to climb back up the rankings closer to her career high of No. 17 (she was No. 27 entering the week).
“I’m just going to try and do this again in the next event that I will play,” she said. “I’m just trying to play better match by match. I felt that this week in the beginning it was not great, but every match went a little bit better. And still, I think I can play better than I did this week, so I think that’s only a good thing.”
And if she can emulate this week moving forward - watch out, world.
By: Nick McCarvel
Playing two matches on Sunday after a rain-soaked Saturday, the team of Alla Kudryavtseva and Katarina Srebotnik won both on the last day of the Volvo Car Open to capture the doubles crown.
Kudryavtseva/Srebotnik beat Andreja Klepac and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez 6-3, 6-3 inside Volvo Car Stadium after taking out Kateryna Bondarenko and Aleksandra Krunic earlier in the day in the semifinals.
It’s the first title for the pair after finishing as runners-up in St. Petersberg in February.
Srebotnik had won the doubles title here way back in 2008 alongside Ai Sugiyama. The 37 year old now has 38 doubles titles to her name while playing on the WTA. She had not reached the final here since.
Srebotnik talked of her affinity for the event, playing here for the ninth time.
“This one feels like a family event,” she said on Tennis Channel. “Everyone is so friendly. We feel welcome and at home. … They really love doubles here.”
Added Kudryavtseva: “It feels unique here. I’ve stayed with the same family for years. Southern hospitality… it’s not just about the sport here. Thank y’all! (Laughs.)”
Kudryavtseva/Srebotnik dropped just one set all week - in their first match - then upset the No. 2 seeded team of Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Andrea Sestini Hlavackova in the quarterfinals.
They said they do not have further plans to play together this season having had their schedules set with other partners prior. It’d be a good idea for them to team up, however, after a title like this.
By: Nick McCarvel
Kiki Bertens saved a match point on Sunday afternoon to beat American hope Madison Keys 6-4, 6-7(2), 7-6(5) in a nearly three-hour semifinal to book her place in the Volvo Car Open final.
It’s there that she’ll face Julia Goerges, the German, who took out Anastasija Sevastova 7-6(5), 6-3.
Semifinals were being played on Sunday following a near-washout of play on Saturday.
In doubles, Katarina Srebotnik returns to the doubles final 10 years after winning it in 2008. She and partner Alla Kudryavtseva will face off against Andreja Klepac and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. That final will take place prior to the singles final.
Storms that moved through the area on Saturday largely impacted the schedule after the completion of just one doubles semifinal. Goerges and Sevastova were at 4-4 in the first set when rain ended the day’s play.
Sunday is the first time both the semifinals and finals are being played on one day in the tournament’s 18-year stay on Daniel Island.
There will be a new winner crowned come late afternoon as neither Goerges or Bertens has captured the trophy here prior. Goerges took out defending champion Daria Kasatkina in the quarterfinals Friday.
Bertens was playing against Keys and the crowd as the Charleston fans hollered their support for the Iowa native. But the Dutchwoman would save a match point at 5-4 down in the third set and then be the more aggressive of the two players in the third-set tiebreak.
Goerges used a tiebreak to win the first over Sevastova, then took the momentum from there, closing out the win for her fourth final in less than eight months.
By: Nick McCarvel
Championship Sunday always brings about world-class WTA tennis in Charleston, but with it also arrives thoughts of, “Wait! That all happened so fast!”
The same goes for the 2018 edition of the Volvo Car Open, which has whizzed by in a blur of on-court action, special events away from it and inspiring storylines along the way.
Here, we recount a few of our favorites as we set up for a memorable last day of play on Daniel Island.
Storms in the area meant nearly no play on Saturday afternoon, pushing both singles semifinals and one of two doubles semis to Sunday. For the first time in the tournament's 18 years on Daniel Island would both the semis and final be played on one day. Kiki Bertens and Julia Goerges will meet for the title, neither having won here before.
Bethanie’s Emotional Return
Bethanie Mattek-Sands has been doubles champion here before and is a former world No. 1 in doubles, but a slip at Wimbledon last year meant a horrific knee injury, and she only returned to competition last month in Miami. But it was here in Charleston that she got her first win after nearly nine months away, tearing up while being given a standing ovation after she and partner Andrea Sestini Hlavackova won their first match on Court 3. They’d fall short in the quarterfinals.
Charleston as a Breakthrough
Who’s the next big star in women’s tennis? It’s always a question we ask ourselves in Charleston, and 2018 may have provided some answers. For the second straight year Hungarian teen Fanny Stollar qualified and then made the third round, still just 19 years old. Kristyna Pliskova continued her slow climb up the WTA rankings with a shocker over No. 2 seed Petra Kvitova, advancing to the quarterfinals. And American Kristie Ahn stunned Sam Stosur in her opener before being edged out by Goerges in a third-set tiebreak.
Daria Kasatkina won her first title here at age 19 a year ago and said she had no idea what to expect as defending champ. In the end, she fell in the quarterfinals to Goerges, but said the week was full of pressure and also positives – and that she learned how to deal with the stress of great expectations. She also had a fair bit of fun, she said, and is “excited to come back for many, many years.”
A Good Week Overall
Not every player can walk away a winner. It was a great week for a handful of other players, too. Madison Keys made the semifinals here for the first time in three years; Anastasija Sevastova did so for a first time ever. Katarina Srebotnik was back into the doubles final for the first time since winning it way back in 2008 - 10 years ago. It was a good week for Alize Cornet, as well, the No. 14 seed winning three matches and upsetting No. 1 seed Caroline Garcia on her way to the quarterfinals.
Shelby’s TV Debut, Players in the Community
Off the court due to an injury of her own, local native Shelby Rogers took a star turn on Tennis Channel as a roving correspondent and contributor at the TC Live desk, proving to be adept at being on screen – as though we expected anything else. Players also made their way into the community: Pera visited U.S. service members at Joint Base Charleston; a group of players stopped by MUSC Children’s Hospital to spend time with young patients there; and Johanna Konta and Naomi Osaka played a little makeshift tennis atop The Dewberry – with Charleston views all around them.
By: Nick McCarvel
Sunday is set to be a busy day of tennis. You can say that several times over.
After storms wiped out the majority of Saturday’s Volvo Car Open and men’s legends play, the schedule is chock full of world-class action from morning until the early evening, when we’ll crown three new Charleston champions once again.
The men of the Invesco Legends Charleston event will kick things off at 8am, followed by WTA doubles and singles semifinal and final play.
It’s a big day no matter how you paint it, but in particular for the four singles players who remain in Madison Keys, Julia Goerges, Kiki Bertens and Anastasija Sevastova.
All are looking for their first title here, Keys the lone among them who has been this far in Charleston – a finalist in 2015.
Goerges and Sevastova will play from a 4-4 first set tie from Saturday, while Keys-Bertens as well as the second doubles semifinal will each start from love-all.
Getting to Know…
American fans will be plenty familiar with Keys, the 23-year-old No. 7 seed who was runner up to Angelique Kerber here in 2015. She was a finalist at the US Open last September and is looking to win her first title since Stanford last summer.
Goerges is the most established of the other three semifinalists, the 29-year-old German having made her top 10 debut this year after three titles in the span of the last few months. The tour veteran is playing some of the best tennis of her career, she says, for simple reasons: She’s healthy and happy off the court.
Goerges’ opponent, Sevastova, is the second Latvian reach the final here in as many years after Jelena Ostapenko made the last two a year ago. She has not dropped a set this week and plays a crafty, all-court type of game that can prove tough to beat for the three other semifinalists, all who play a power-based game.
Bertens, Keys’ foe, is all smiles off the court, but packs plenty of punch on it. The Dutchwoman beat Keys at the French Open two years ago in their only previous meeting and loves playing on the clay herself, having recorded nearly half her career wins on this surface.
Fitness will play a factor on Sunday, as it’s rare for the players – particularly on the singles side – to play two matches in one day.
In doubles, Andreja Klepac and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez await the winner between Kateryna Bondarenko and Aleksandra Krunic against Alla Kudryavtseva and Katarina Srebotnik.
None of the remaining doubles teams have won this title as a pair, but Srebotnik did win here once before – way back in 2008 – alongside then-partner Ai Sugiyama.
By: Nick McCarvel
A lot has changed in the three years since Madison Keys last made the Volvo Car Open final in 2015. But one thing has stayed the same: She still plays ball-bashing, power-laden tennis.
On Saturday Keys, the 23-year-old American, looks to make her second final here in four years, set to play the equally-powerful Kiki Bertens in one of two of Saturday’s semifinals.
It’s the second of two singles semis set, following No. 5 seed Julia Goerges’ battle with crafty all-courter Anastasija Sevastova, set to start at 1pm.
Both doubles semifinals are scheduled for Saturday, as well as the Invesco Legends Charleston men’s event in the evening session, featuring Andy Roddick and more.
But all eyes will be on Keys come mid-afternoon at the Family Circle Tennis Center. She is more mature than she was three years ago, and last September reached her first major championship match when she finished runner-up at the US Open. Charleston marks her first semifinal at any event since that run in Flushing Meadows.
“It’s always a battle (for me) on clay,” Keys admitted to reporters on Friday. “I’m feeling more comfortable… but I have to figure it out and then I can get more comfortable.”
There will be little comfort against Bertens on Saturday, the Dutch player in fine form having not dropped a set en route to the semifinals. She owns their only career meeting: A fourth round encounter on the clay courts of Roland Garros in 2016.
Keys has sorted her way through two tough matches this week, notably on Friday, when she trailed little-known American Bernarda Pera 2-4 in the third set before rallying to win 7-5 in the decider.
This match will be one of first-strike tennis – even on the clay – and which player can serve with more efficiency and brute force.
Goerges is the de facto favorite in the first semi of the day against Sevastova, but it’s a toss up in many ways: They are both playing in their first semifinal here in Charleston and Goerges has a slight 4-3 lead in their seven career meetings, though Sevastova won just a few weeks ago at Indian Wells.
It will be their first-ever meeting on a clay court.
Goerges has been a player to watch on the WTA for years, but injuries have gotten the better of her. Only earlier this year did she enter the top 10. Sevastova, on the other hand, walked away from tennis briefly before coming out of retirement in 2015.
Both women appear to be happy and confident on and off the court. They’ve showed as much in match play this past week.
It’s semifinal Saturday at the Volvo Car Open. Ready? Play.
By: Nick McCarvel
For Julia Goerges, the fifth time is the charm.
Making her fifth appearance at the Volvo Car Open, the 29-year-old German advanced to the semifinals in Charleston for the first tim in her career. Friday afternoon she ended the eight-match winning streak of defending champion Daria Kasatkina here, winning 6-4, 6-3 to book a spot in the final four.
It’s there she’ll meet No. 8 seed Anastasija Sevastova for a chance at the final - what would be her fourth in six months.
After Goerges' early-afternoon win on Friday, Madison Keys of the U.S. locked in her place in the final four for the first time in three years, coming back from a 2-4 deficit in the third set against little-known American Bernarda Pera, in the end prevailing 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5 in two hours and 14 minutes.
Keys was a finalist here in 2015, losing then to Angelique Kerber. She had not won a match in Charleston over the last two years prior to her run this week.
It’s there that she’ll meet No. 12 seed Kiki Bertens, who was a 6-2, 7-5 winner over Alize Cornet on Friday night. Bertens has won her only previous meeting with Keys in a fourth-round encounter at the French Open two years ago.
The Latvian Sevastova played the final singles match of the day session and appeared to have an early dinner reservation. She dispatched Kristyna Pliskova in just 59 minutes, 6-4, 6-0.
Sevastova is playing here for the fourth time, having been stopped in the quarterfinals a year ago by Laura Siegemund, marking her previous best result in Charleston. Should she win Saturday she’ll make just her fifth career final on the WTA.
But Goerges, the No. 5 seed this week, has had a sixth-month span to remember: She won back-to-back titles in Moscow and Zhuhai to finish 2017, then opened this season with a another title in Auckland, helping her make her top 10 debut in her 12th full season on tour. She has a 16-5 record this season.
“I’m having a good time,” Goerges said about her run in Charleston. “It’s a great city. It’s a great atmosphere, great spectators here. And just in general they are doing a terrific job, and I think all the players are very welcome and that’s how I’m feeling, too.”
Goerges is feeling good about her tennis, as well, after a three-set scare against American Kristie Ahn to start the tournament. She beat a red hot Naomi Osaka in the third round on Thursday in straight sets.
It’s the fifth consecutive year a German player has made the semifinals here, following runs by Andrea Petkovic (2014), Angelique Kerber (2015 and 2016) and Siegemund last year.
Keys had to rally in her match, Pera playing a hard-hitting game from the baseline with her lefty spin. The New Jersey resident has had a year to remember, making a run to the Australian Open third round in January, beating Johanna Konta. She'll make her top 100 debut next week.
But after failing to convert on two match points in the second set, Keys had a coaching visit from Lindsay Davenport who told her little tactically and more wanted her charge to show that she was motivated to win the match.
Keys did just that, and the win puts her into a semifinal on tour for the first time since the US Open last September.
Kasatkina became a Charleston favorite herself by winning the title last year, her first at the age 19. She said Friday’s loss made her “really upset,” but she was happy she went through the experience of being a defending champ for the first time in Charleston.
“I’m learning how to deal with this [kind of] pressure,” she told reporters. “I like the atmosphere in Charleston, the people, the food, the organization… everything is so awesome. I’m excited to come [back] here every year.”
By: Nick McCarvel
On Easter Sunday night earlier this week, Madison Keys was on the roof of the Grand Bohemian Hotel for the Volvo Car Open player party.
A big grin spread across her face. She was holding plastic Easter eggs in her hands.
“I can’t find the golden egg!” She exclaimed to no one in particular. A host of other players around her were looking for that golden egg, too, promised – by tournament organizers – to have a nice prize in it for whoever found it.
Keys didn’t find said egg, but the Iowa-raised, Florida-residing American often has a smile splashed on her face while in Lowcountry. She was a finalist here in 2015 at the age of 20. It’s her sixth year playing here in a row. In 2013, her first appearance, she played Venus Williams in the quarterfinals. She’s grown up a lot since then.
Last year Keys was a finalist at the US Open and she’s made a brief appearance in the world's top 10. While 2018 hasn’t been kind to her after a run to the Australian Open quarterfinals, she seems to be finding her footing on the green clay courts this week.
She hadn’t won a match here since that 2015 run prior to Wednesday night when she stopped Lara Arruabarrena in three sets. Thursday she followed said win with a convincing performance over Camila Giorgi in straights.
She knows the crowd is on her side and she revels in it. Friday she plays fellow American (but lesser-known) Bernarda Pera. She’d like to continue the momentum she started a few days ago.
“I always just love coming here,” she said. “[Charleston] was one of my first finals. I always have amazing memories, and I always look forward to coming and playing in front of these fans. They are truly amazing.”
What is also amazing is how Keys has used her celebrity status. With over 350,000 combined followers on Twitter and Instagram, she’s joined forces with FearlesslyGIRL, a non-profit that empowers young girls, Keys speaking out on bullying and making a connection with adolescent females.
Friday she’ll be focused back on the tennis court. As the weekend approaches, she’ll be less in search of that golden egg and more on the Volvo Car Open trophy. Charleston will be cheering her on.
By: Nick McCarvel
No. 5 seed Julia Goerges represents one type of quarterfinalist Friday at the Volvo Car Open: The expected.
Four of the top eight seeds have advance to the business end of the tournament, with Cinderella stories – the unexpected – representing the second four players, a group that features the likes of a former French Open semifinalist in Kiki Bertens.
Defending champion Daria Kasatkina – the No. 3 seed – and 2015 Charleston finalist Madison Keys headline Friday’s play, which also includes Goerges and No. 8 seed Anastasija Sevastova.
Joining Bertens as those who have surprised this week are world No. 101 Bernarda Pera, an American who is playing in her first-ever WTA quarterfinal, Kristyna Pliskova, the hard-hitting Czech left-hander who upset No. 2 seed Petra Kvitova earlier this week and No. 14 seed Alize Cornet, who upset French compatriot and top seed Caroline Garcia Thursday night.
The Volvo Car Open always brings a mix of the expected and unexpected. Last year it was Kasatkina – then just 19 – who stunned her way to the title. This week she has felt the pressure as defending champ, winning a tough opener before settling into her tennis.
Her next ask is perhaps the hardest of any for a spot in Saturday’s semifinals: Goerges. At 29, the German is playing the best tennis of her career having spent time inside the world’s top 10 earlier this year. She said her happiness on and off the court is contributing to her stronger play.
Thursday she was in devastatingly good form, hitting eight aces and winning 71 percent of points behind her first serve over a red-hot foe in Naomi Osaka, the Indian Wells champ.
Goerges leads her head-to-head with Kasatkina 3-2, including two in a row in the past 18 months. Kasatkina, however, has won eight matches in a row in Charleston, dating back to last year’s first round.
Kasatkina and Goerges open the day’s play inside Volvo Car Stadium at 11am, followed by the all-American battle of Keys vs. Pera.
Pera was little known before this year. She was a lucky loser at the Australian Open before making the third round, upsetting Johanna Konta en route. In just her sixth WTA-level event, she is into a quarterfinal here.
Keys, the 23-year-old 2017 US Open finalist, doesn’t know much about Pera, who was born in Croatia and played under that nation’s flag early in her career.
“I don’t know a ton,” Keys told reporters. “I’ve seen her a little bit this year because she’s been winning some matches. [I only know] she’s a lefty and goes for her shots.”
Kristyna Pliskova, twin sister to top 10 stalwart Karolina, is also a lefty who goes for her shots, and Friday will look to continue what has been a dream run this week against Sevastova, a crafty Latvian who plays all-court tennis.
Fresh off her upset over Garcia, Cornet gets a crack at the Dutch player Bertens, who is always dangerous – particularly on clay. They play the 7pm evening match.
Doubles also features on Friday, with a quarterfinal match set for both the day and night sessions.
Come Friday night, we’ll have our championship weekend all squared away. Which will storylines prevail and persist? We’ll just have to wait and see.
By: Nick McCarvel
Michael Chang has played in Charleston before.
But, that was 30 years ago when there was a men’s tournament stop in the Lowcountry. Now, he’s back in 2018, older and wiser, as part of the Invesco Legends Charleston event at the Volvo Car Stadium Saturday night.
Chang – along with Andy Roddick, Tommy Haas and defending champion Mark Philippoussis – bring champion’s tennis to the Volvo Car Stadium for a third consecutive year in a format that’s quick, high-stakes and fun.
Chang, 46, retired some 15 years ago, and has younger, more powerful foes to deal with in Charleston. That’s where the famed green clay should help him.
“Clay is a big neutralizer as it slows the ball down,” Chang explains. “I’ll play better on the green clay versus the normal indoor surface. It gives me more time and allows me to manipulate the ball a little more.”
Chang has stayed busy in his years of retirement: He’s on the pro tour consistently as a coach and adviser to top 10 stalwart Kei Nishikori of Japan, while he and his wife – former touring pro Amber Liu – have three kids all under the age of eight. One thing he says that won’t change when he walks onto Billie Jean King Stadium Court under those bright lights? His nerves.
“I don’t think any tennis player ever gets tired of the thrill", he says. “Playing and performing is always easy to get up for. It’s something I enjoy very much still to this day. There is always a little bit of jitters with fans in attendance, but it’s all good fun… I’m looking forward to playing on that court in Charleston."