Edition 30 September 2018, by John Mahnen
In the Netherlands, we have a strange relationship with our sporting heroes. Most sporting legends can sit in a restaurant and enjoy their meal in relative peace. Wesley Sneijder, who recently played for the Dutch National Team for the last time, could expect only a knowing glance from the other patrons. Everyone in the restaurant knows he there and will mention it the following day at work, but the idea of asking for an autograph or a selfie is normally reserved only for the stars of the upper stratosphere. Sneijder’s wife, Yolanthe Cabau van Kasbergen, might garner more unwelcome attention than her husband! Formula One driver Max Verstappen, on the other hand, is a different story. Chances are he would not stroll the isles of the neighborhood supermarket unmolested. His meteoric rise to the apogee of sport stardom has Dutch households glued to their televisions on Sunday afternoons, looking to see if the young daredevil from the Red Bull Racing Team will occupy the post-race podium.
Whilst Max is currently occupying the throne as the King of Dutch sport, there is a noticeable absence on the Queen’s chair. The star of erstwhile superstar athlete Dafne Dekkers has lost a bit of its luster with only moderate success booked in 2018. The vacancy could quite possibly be filled in the future by the up- and-coming tennis pro Kiki Bertens.
Bertens who has been a steady performer on the clay and hard courts is slowly but surely adding more credits to her list of palmares. In 2016, she turned heads reaching the quarter finals of the French Open. Her progress to the fourth round of Wimbledon earlier this year showed that she is also making strides as a grass court player. All in all, she is becoming a more stable player as she herself proclaimed post match in England. The career of Bertens has not always been ‘stable’ however, with a scare of cancer throwing her off balance in the past. In 2014, a routine physical at a WTA tournament in Miami turned up a tumor on her thyroid gland. For nearly a year, doctors could not tell Bertens if the growth was malignant of benign. Bertens suffered emotionally that year she would later reveal – not being able to sleep let stand focus on elite tennis. When the diagnosis finally proved negative for cancer, Bertens could once again concentrate on tennis but success would not come easy or quickly.
Kiki’s path to success is credited to the addition of Raemon Sluiter to her coaching staff. Sluiter himself was a serviceable pro, hanging up the racquet as his means of income at the end of the previous decade. He is best known for his upset of Juan Carlos Ferrero in his Davis Cup debut back in 2001. Martin van der Brugghen, the club trainer at Berten’s home court in Berkel en Rodenrijs, hired Sluiter to accompany Berkens on the road some three years ago.
The decision to bring Sluiter on board has proved to a wise one and the past season has seen the best success of Bertens’ career to date. In addition to her quarter final finish at Wimbledon, she managed to find herself in the third round of the Australian and American Opens as well as Roland Garros. A title in Charleston at the expense of Julia Görges, followed by a title in Cincinnati after falling behind to Simona Halep in the final have helped thrust Kiki into the tennis spotlight and start the speculation about her potential as a sporting superstar.
Perhaps the best indication of her ability to escape the atmosphere of mediocracy is her current WTA ranking. In August of this year, she was pegged at number 12 in the world. Only former Dutch pros Betty Stöve (5) and Brenda Schulz (9) have been ranked higher. Bertens has shown she can compete against the world’s best. Hopefully, she will continue to hone her game with the remaining fixtures on the 2018 WTA calendar. The question looms as the whether the 2019 tennis season, beginning in Melbourne with the Australian Open, might see a new Dutch sports queen crowned!