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Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands won the Volvo Car Open championship on Sunday April 8, 2018, at the Family Circle Tennis Center on Daniel Island. She defeated Julia Goerges of Germany, 6-2, 6-1. 

This year's Volvo Car Open produced a final that no one probably could have predicted the way it played out.

It almost goes back to the days when the tournament was known as the Family Circle Cup and was played at Sea Pines Plantation on Hilton Head Island. Clay ruled in those days.

Kiki Bertens was ranked 27th in the world a week ago (now 21st) and has been a journeywomen player much of her 11 years on the WTA Tour. Last Sunday, she was crowned as the 2018 Volvo Car Open champion.

Of course, this is still clay. Anything can happen.

Bertens is the consummate clay-courter who plays big. She was able to deliver solid well-placed serves and deep high-kicking ground strokes that kept fifth seed Julia Goerges on the defensive.

When Goerges tried to go big, she over-hit or hit loosely far too often to avoid what happened on a cold Sunday afternoon. A 6-2, 6-1 loss for Goerges was the result.

Who would have believed this result after seeing the wonderful and consistently powerful tennis that the 29-year-old German had displayed most of the tournament. But Bertens was always there in the final with her clay court skills.

Of course, this wasn't a typical final. Goerges had completed her semifinal match against Anastasija Sevastova that started on Saturday just a couple of hours before taking the court against Bertens. Goerges wasn't ready, and it showed.

But give Bertens credit. She had played a tough three-setter against Madison Keys at mid-morning. The new champ didn't play on Saturday, but she had played another tough three-setter on Friday night when her hip was hurting.

And yet, the 26-year-old from the Netherlands came out on the court in late-afternoon cold and played like she was on fire.

The once amazingly consistent Goerges suddenly turned erratic, trying to beat Berkens to the first big shot of rallies. Berkens won that battle time after time, getting control of the rallies and preventing Goerges from being able to dictate play as she had been doing all week.

Because Berkens always seemed to be on the offensive and in charge of the point with her serves and deep ground strokes, Goerges' returns too often had little pace or were too short to regain control of the rallies. Or even worse, Goerges banged her big forehands everywhere but between the singles lines.

There were times when it looked like Goerges might make things interesting. There was the Berkens shot that looked long on the baseline that could have broken Berkens and cut her lead to 4-3 in the first set, with Goerges up to serve next. That one went uncalled and Berkens imposed her will and won the game for 5-2.

Then, there was the simple little shot by Berkens at 2-0 in the second set that just made it over the net and bounced up high. Any junior could have put that one away, but Goerges tried a tricky drop volley that ended up in the net. A couple points later, Berkens was sitting on a 3-0 lead. Fans were getting ready to head for the exits.

That's the way the final played out.

Last Sunday was all about the final of the tournament. But the longest and probably coldest final day in the 46-year history of the tournament didn't satisfy everyone.

The fans wanted Madison Keys. And she nearly made it to the final. The second of two tiebreakers stood at 5-5 before Keys committed a pair of errors to end a three-set semifinal loss to Berkens.

Berkens played great tennis in that one, too. But she doesn't have nearly as many fans on Daniel Island as Keys.

By a 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5) score in two hours and 42 minutes of ice box weather, Berkens became the long-shot finalist in the Volvo Car Open.

Things had looked rosy for Goerges after she had finished off Sevastova in the semifinals with some excellent play.

But Bertens struck again in the cold against Goerges, and only the future will tell just how endeared VCO fans will become with the new champion of Daniel Island. Then again, this might be the result that launches the talented Berkens toward women's tennis' top tier list of stars.

Reach James Beck at jbeck@postandcourier.com

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