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Netherlands' Kiki Bertens faces ultimate challenge: Serena Williams

Kiki Bertens returns a ball to Petra Kvitova

Kiki Bertens returns a ball to Petra Kvitova during a first-round match at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London on Tuesday June 30, 2015. Credit: AP / Tim Ireland

When Kiki Bertens faces Serena Williams today in the U.S. Open, it will be the biggest match of her life.

It comes not long after the biggest match of her life, and one of her biggest disappointments.

The 23-year-old Dutch player, ranked 110 in the world, will try to grapple with the world's No. 1 player on Arthur Ashe Stadium court in a second-round match. At this past Wimbledon, she drew a first-round match against two-time champion Petra Kvitova on Centre Court. Kvitova mowed her down shorter than the grass. Bertens lost, 6-1, 6-0, in less than an hour.

"I didn't enjoy so much that match and I learned from that," Bertens said after she defeated Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in a tough three-set match on Monday night. "So I will move forward from that and hopefully enjoy ."

According to Dutch journalist Jan-Willem de Lange, Bertens said after the loss to Kvitova that she had a "mental blackout" before stepping on the court and subsequently couldn't get a hold of herself and her game during the match.

Against Williams, Bertens will be going up against an all-time great with an all-time reserve of mental toughness. Bertens has made a point of watching Williams play, and cites her steely mentality as a weapon as big as her serve.

"I think mentally she's great, even when she's down she's always fighting for every point," Bertens said. "She's really aggressive. I love to watch her play. I think her game is unbelievable, she is so aggressive. I think I can learn a lot from that because I'm trying to play aggressive, too."

It's fairly safe to say that Williams has little firsthand knowledge of Bertens' game, having never played her, but she tried to address playing her today.

"I think she's playing well," Williams said. "She does a lot of things well. She had a big serve. It's definitely something that I look forward to."

Bertens is 6 feet, and won a slugfest with Lucic-Baroni, which at least gives her a taste of the power that Williams serves up. And it's Williams' thunderous serve that perplexes everyone.

How will Bertens handle it?

"I think sometimes just guessing where the ball is coming and just go for it," she said.

Bertens once reached No. 41 in the world, then suffered a series of illness and injury setbacks followed by the mental block at Wimbledon. But maybe coming through the Open qualifier in three matches to reach the main draw and beating a big hitter in the first round sets her up to be competitive.

"I didn't have a great year, but the last few weeks it's going better and better," Bertens said. "I feel more confident."

Now, if she can just keep her focus.

"It's going to be a tough match," Bertens said. "She's [the greatest] player in the world and she can make a Grand Slam, a one-year Slam, and that will be a tough match. But I'm looking forward to it."

New York Sports