BEIJING, China - Kiki Bertens never thought she would ever be ranked as high as No.11 in the world. Now, she's just a step away from becoming the first Dutchwoman to be ranked in the Top 10 in over 20 years, since Brenda Schultz-McCarthy in 1996.
"It would mean a lot," Bertens told WTA Insider after her second-round win at the China Open. "Everyone is focusing on the big numbers, so Top 10 is a big goal.
"Honestly, I didn't ever believe that I could go this far, so for me, it's really great that I'm No.11. For me, that's already so high. But of course, you want to be Top 10. I'm just going to try with every match and every week to reach that."
"I don't want to think about it because I didn't make any goals at the beginning of the year and I think that's also why my season has been so good. But of course when you're so close, you start thinking about it and more people are talking about it, so it comes to your mind."
A win over Katerina Siniakova on Thursday in Beijing would confirm Bertens' Top 10 debut on Monday. In the event of a loss, Bertens would still enter the Top 10 unless Aryna Sabalenka makes the final or Caroline Garcia win the title this week. It's a fantastic reflection of Bertens' stellar season, which saw her start the year outside the Top 30 and now leads the tour in Top 10 wins this season with 10.
Of course, in addition to hitting a ranking milestone, Bertens is in the midst of a tight race to qualify for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global in singles for the first time. Bertens entered the week at No.9 on the Porsche Race to Singapore Leaderboard - the Top 8 will qualify for the tour championships - and just 10 points behind Karolina Pliskova, who held the No.8 position. Bertens can qualify this week if she wins the title, or sooner if other results go her way.
That Bertens is in the mix to qualify for Singapore is in large part due to her breakthrough on the non-clay surfaces this season. Historically a clay-court specialist, Bertens backed up a strong clay season by making her first Wimbledon quarterfinal, before winning the first hardcourt title of her career in Cincinnati, where she defeated No.1 Simona Halep in the final.
Much was expected of Bertens at the US Open, but the 26-year-old exited in the third round in a final-set tiebreak to 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova. But Bertens quickly put aside the disappointment and got back to work, even if it meant sacrificing some important time at home, where her sister was due to give birth to her nephew.
"Arriving from the US Open, I knew my sister was going to give birth, so I wanted to stay home for that," Bertens said. "But with Singapore happening and I was still feeling good, after 2-3 days of rest after New York, I felt fresh again. That was a good feeling. I started at practice again, I was hitting the ball well again. So we made the decision to go to Seoul. That turned out pretty good."
"My nephew was born on the 19th when I was in Seoul. She was nine days late, otherwise I was home. So it was pretty annoying," Bertens said with a laugh. "Every day we have contact."
Bertens' trip to Seoul was fruitful. She won her second hardcourt title in as many months and ramped up the points pressure on Pliskova, who for her part won the Premier tournament in Tokyo that same week.
"Every day I was checking to see what Pliskova did, then she won the tournament there and I won it in Seoul," Bertens said. "After that I thought, I have to focus more on myself and what I'm doing.
"I'm just trying to do the best that I can. If I make Singapore, it's great, it's an unbelievable season. But if I'm not making it, it's still a great season.
"It's more of a bonus. That's how I really want to see it and hopefully, I can still see it that way in my upcoming matches. But it's tough."
Bertens has openly discussed her aversion to pressure and how she struggled as recently as this time last year with enjoying the game and her life on tour. Playing under the pressure of trying to qualify for Singapore has undone many players in the past and Bertens is well aware of that also. The key for her is to keep her perspective, while still tapping into her ambition.
"There's a little bit of pressure, I would say," Bertens said. "I'm pretty close but I'm still so far away. So you have to push yourself, but you have to push yourself the right way.
"I think I struggled with that in Wuhan. Of course, you know that you're tired and you cannot expect the best of yourself, but I was still doing that. I was not happy with the way I played, but then afterward you're like, of course you weren't playing good. You were so tired.
"If I step out from it I know it, but when I'm on court you really want to do your best and you want to win, and if you make a mistake, you don't accept it.
"That's what I'm trying now, accept what is going on on court, accept that you're a little bit tired, but give all the energy you have and after this, you go home, even if just for a day, then prepare good for Linz and Moscow, maybe Singapore, but otherwise Zhuhai, and it's still a great season.
"If you would say you're going to be in Zhuhai, if you said that at the beginning of the year, I would say perfect. That's all good. We go for it, and then we'll see."
"It's all still so close, everyone still has a chance for Singapore and I don't think it will be decided after this week or after next week. So I'm entered in Linz and Moscow. My plan was already to play there. Hopefully, the body feels the same way and I can finish the season on good terms."
The WTA is now accepting applications for Media Accreditation for the 2018 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. Applications can be submitted here.
This article was first seen on www.wtatennis.com.