Friday, August 24, 2018

What we can learn from Kiki Bertens

all photos by Daniel Ward
I recently wrote about Kiki Bertens' simple, but often difficult to accomplish, strategy for turning her career around. While we were in Cincinnati, the world number 13 (and Cincinnati champion) talked about what she had to do to even want to keep playing professional tennis after her 2017 season.

"I really needed a break," she said, "needed the holiday, to determine how I wanted to continue. I think, if I were feeling the same now as I was feeling last year, it was better for me to stop.

"I had some great results, but still I could not really enjoy it. So it always like, if I won, okay, it was more like kind of a relief, and not like, happiness. And like, already, it seemed like 'but tomorrow, I have to go again.' And everything was more like 'okay, I have to do this,' and not like, 'okay, it’s another opportunity to play some great tennis.

"From then on, I...just made some rules for myself: 'Okay, how do you want to play, how do you want to feel on court?'

Bertens also talked about the importance of just relaxing, which she does by watching movies, doing yoga, reading, or just "going to get a coffee."
photo by Daniel Ward

Bertens wasn't exactly a slouch before this season. A ferocious Fed Cup competitor, she led her team to victory over and over, and she was highly respected for her clay court skills. But this year, Bertens showed us what she can really do, winning her first premier tournament in Charleston, reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, and winning her first hard court tournament--which just happened to be a premier 5 event--in Cincinnati.

Add to that the Dutch star's recent defeat of ten top 10 players, including world number 1 Simona Halep in the Cincinnati final.

What Kiki Bertens did was to realize that she no longer liked her job, and that she had to decide whether to quit that job or find a way to like it. Sometimes, when we reach such a crossroad, we're in the best position to make a difficult decision.

For Bertens, the decision was to find a way to like her job, and she did that by making a conscious decision to enjoy and appreciate her victories instead of dreading what came next. She decided to keep herself in the present and clear her head of distractions. How easy it sounds--but how difficult it can be to accomplish, especially when one's job involves always having to be the best; after all, only one player or one team emerges as the winner of a tennis tournament.

Was Bertens' mental shift a key to her 2018 success? Absolutely. She also trained hard and practiced a lot. But it was quieting the noise in her head and letting herself appreciate her success that gave her the freedom to believe she could do even more.

See other posts about players from whom we can learn:

How to Siegemund--a brief guide for dealing with life's more difficult stuff

The lesson of Martina Hingis

Schmiedlova plays winning tennis and teaches a worthwhile lesson

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