Fixture: Kiki Bertens vs Polona Hercog
Date: 17 September 2020
Tournament: Italian Open 2020
Round: Second Round (Round of 32)
Venue: Rome, Italy
Category: WTA Premier 5
Surface: Red clay
Prize money: €1,771,082
Match timing: 4.15 pm CEST, 7.45 pm IST
Live telecast: USA - Tennis Channel / ESPN
Kiki Bertens vs Polona Hercog preview
After a nearly six-month absence from tennis, Kiki Bertens returns to face Polona Hercog in the second round of the Italian Open on Thursday.
Bertens had a very solid start to the season, reaching the fourth round at the Australian Open (losing to eventual finalist Garbine Muguruza). She followed that with her first title of the year at St. Petersburg, where she defeated the likes of Elena Rybakina and Veronika Kudermetova.
After the resumption of the tour, however, Bertens chose to miss Palermo and Prague on clay as well as the American hardcourt season. She has only participated played two exhibition matches in the last six months, losing both - on grass against Petra Kvitova, and on clay against Anastasija Sevastova.
Bertens' opponent on Thursday, Slovenia's Polona Hercog, is an experienced player on the tour. Since the pandemic, however, Hercog has been in less than inspiring form, losing in the first round at both Palermo and Prague.
That said, Hercog did reach the quarterfinals of the Istanbul Open last week, before losing to Paula Badosa in three sets.
Kiki Bertens vs Polona Hercog head-to-head
The match in Rome will be the third meeting between the two players, and the head-to-head between Kiki Bertens and Polona Hercog is currently tied at 1-1.
Bertens defeated Hercog in a hard-fought Round of 16 match at Beijing last year. However, she had to retire with injury in their first encounter, which was way back in 2012 at Dallas.
Kiki Bertens vs Polona Hercog prediction
Given Kiki Bertens' superior ranking and excellent record on clay, she comes into the match against Polona Hercog as the clear favorite on paper. However, considering that she hasn't played a single match since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bertens may not have enough match sharpness to assert her dominance immediately.
Bertens has the kind of game that is very suited to clay. Her topspin-heavy forehand should be able to push Hercog behind the baseline with ease. That combined with her variety of shots and decent net game could give plenty of trouble to Hercog as the match progresses.
The Slovenian, however, has no dearth of experience on clay. All three of her career titles have come on the surface, most recently at Lugano last year.
Hercog will look to attack Bertens' serve early and reduce the length of the rallies from the back of the court. And she might even find some success at that, given Bertens' expected rustiness.
The match will likely be a lengthy grind with more errors than winners, but Bertens' claycourt expertise should ultimately see her through.
Prediction: Kiki Bertens to win in three sets.