Ashleigh Barty. (Photo by: Xinhua/Liang Xu)
Ashleigh Barty and Belinda Bencic moved into the last four at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen after winning their final group matches in the Red Group on Thursday.
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Heading into the final day of round-robin action in the Red Group, all four players were still in the running for semi-final qualification, but Barty secured top spot with a 6-4 6-2 victory over Petra Kvitova in the day’s earlier match, while Bencic joined her in the knockout stages later in the day with victory over Kiki Bertens, who retired from the contest with a viral illness.
Competing in the singles event at the WTA Finals for the first time, Barty opened her tournament with a 5-7 6-1 6-2 victory over Bencic, but she then fell 3-3 6-3 6-4 to alternate, Bertens, leaving her still in need of victory in her final group match against Kvitova to guarantee her passage into the last four.
The world No. 1 trailed Kvitova 2-4 in their head-to-head going into Thursday’s meeting, but she had won their last two matches, both in 2019, and she made it three in a row with a 6-4 6-2 victory over the Czech in Shenzhen.
Barty’s serve laid the foundation for the win, as she hit six aces, and won 80% of points on her first serve. The Australian was clutch on the big points, saving all four break points she faced. Just one break separated the players in a tight opening set, but Barty pulled away at the start of the second set, racing out to a 4-0 lead. There was no catching her from there, as she went on to close out the match after an hour and 30 minutes.
“I think playing against Petra is probably one of my favorite things to do, if I’m being honest”, said Barty, who hit 23 winners and 18 unforced errors. “Win or lose, it’s going to be a great match. It’s going to be played in the right spirit. I just enjoy the challenge of playing against Petra. She really does bring out the best in me”.
“It’s a challenge that I love. It’s a challenge that I thrive on. I think each time I’ve played Petra, I’ve become a better player having learned what’s happened during that match.”
The 23-year-old is looking to close out a wonderful season with fourth title, having also gone all the way at Roland Garros, Miami and Birmingham. Regardless of what happens for the rest of the WTA Finals, she will finish the year as the No. 1 player in the world.
Barty secured top-spot in the group with her victory over Kvitova, leaving Bencic and Bertens to battle for second spot in the second match of the day.
Bertens had beaten Bencic in their three previous meetings, and it was the Dutchwoman who made the better start on Thursday, opening up a 4-2 lead, but Bencic won five of the next six games to take the first set 7-5, and then held for 1-0 to start the second set before Bertens retired.
“I had some problems with my stomach,” said Bertens, who herself came into the tournament as the first alternate following the withdrawal of Naomi Osaka. “The energy was not there. A little bit dizzy. Just too much to continue… I think I gave absolutely everything this year and this week. I’m proud of that.”
While Bertens heads into the off season, Bencic proceeds into the last four of the WTA Finals in her first appearance at the season-ending event.
” Obviously not the way I wanted to win, but super proud of how I fought in that set” Bencic said.
“I think after I lost the first match here, I just wanted to keep fighting, and you never know. There’s people that made it to the semifinal when they won just one match. I was always thinking of those positives. I think everyone is exhausted and injured, all of that. I think now it’s all about the mental strength to go through all of this.”
Bencic goes on to take defending champion, Elina Svitolina- who has already won the other group- in the semi-finals, while Barty will face either Simona Halep or Karolina Pliskova, who will meet on Friday to battle for the last remaining semi-final spot.
Meanwhile, US Open champion, Bianca Andreescu has withdrawn from the WTA Finals due to the knee injury she sustained in her second group match against Karolina Pliskova on Wednesday. Andreescu retired from that match after dropping the first set, casting serious doubts over her further involvement in the tournament, especially since she could no longer make the semi-finals. The 19-year-old officially pulled out on Thursday after scans on her knee revealed the extent of the damage.
“I had a scan Thursday to check my knee after last night’s match and unfortunately the results show that I need to withdraw,” said Andreescu.
“It was amazing to play here in Shenzhen at the end of this incredible season. I’m very disappointed to not be able to finish the year on my terms, but I am hopeful I will have more chances to play here in the future.”
Following Andreescu’s withdrawal, American, Sofia Kenin takes her place as the second alternate, and takes on defending champion, Svitolina in a dead rubber on Friday.