US Open champion, Bianca Andreescu makes her WTA Finals debut on Monday when she squares off against Wimbledon champion, Simona Halep in the second match of the Purple Group.
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Andreescu is attempting to finish off a sensational season with a fourth title, having already recorded stunning successes at Indian Wells, Toronto, and of course, Flushing Meadows, to surge into the WTA’s elite class.
The Canadian’s 2019 exploit are made more remarkable by the fact that she missed a heavy chunk of the season through injury, as she barely played between April and July, but she still managed an incredible 35-5 record for the year, breaking into the top-five in the process.
The teenager was out of the top-100 at the start of the year, but she sounded notice of what was to come by reaching her maiden tour-level final in Auckland in the opening week of the year, beating former world No. 1’s and Grand Slam champions, Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki along the way. Andreescu lost to Anastasija Sevastova in the second round of the Australian Open, in a very rare early exit in 2019, but she responded by winning her first WTA 125K title at Newport Beach, before making another tour-level semi-final in Acapulco.
Then came that stunning success at Indian Wells, where the wildcard scored marquee wins over Garbine Muguruza, Elina Svitolina and Angelique Kerber to claim her maiden WTA title. She defeated Kerber again in the next event in Miami, but her winning streak was cut short in the fourth round, when a shoulder injury forced a retirement against Anett Kontaveit.
She did not play again until Roland Garros, opening with a three-hour three-set victory over Marie Bouzkova in the first round, but she pulled out of the tournament ahead of her second round meeting with Sofia Kenin, as her shoulder problem flared up again. She spent another two months on the sidelines, but returned with a big bang in the North American hard court swing. With the shoulder injury seemingly healed, Andreescu launched into a 16-match winning streak, claiming titles in Toronto and the US Open, but her run eventually came to an end in Beijing, where she fell to Naomi Osaka in the quarter finals.
A notable feature of Andreescu’s season has been her dominance over the sport’s top players- before that loss to Osaka in Beijing, she had scored eight consecutive wins against top-ten players in 2019- a record she will hope to continue as she takes on the best players on the tour this week in Shenzhen.
“I know it’s not going to be easy. Every player in this competition is a tough opponent,” the Canadian said. “I’m really looking forward to what I can do against them. Hopefully I can do good things. I played Svitolina and Pliskova once this year, so I kind of know what to expect. Simona, I’ve never played her, but I’ve looked up to her. It’ll be a really interesting match-up, so I’m excited”.
Andreescu, of course, has strong Romanian roots, and so her first career meeting with Halep will have a bit of a derby feel about it as both players seek the crucial winning start in Shenzhen on Monday.
It has certainly not been Halep’s best season, but she produced arguably the single greatest tournament in her career at Wimbledon, where she claimed her second Grand Slam title. Halep had not won a title in 2019 prior to Wimbledon, but she found some of her best tennis at the All England Club, rounding off the near-perfect fortnight with a flawless victory over Serena Williams in the championship match. That Wimbledon success remains her only title of the season.
The former world No. 1 has made finals in Doha and Madrid, semi-finals in Miami, and a series of quarter finals in Dubai, Eastbourne, Toronto, and Roland Garros, where her French Open title defence ended in a shock loss to American teenager, Amanda Anisimova.
Halep’s post-Wimbledon form has been very ordinary- she opened her North American hard-court season with a quarter final in Toronto, but she has not won consecutive matches since then, stuttering to a 4-4 record across Cincinnati, the US Open, Wuhan and Beijing. To be fair, she has had her injury problems, retiring from her Toronto quarter final against Marie Bouzkova with a leg injury, and quitting against Elena Rybakina in the Round of 16 in Wuhan due to a back problem. Hence, there will be question marks over her fitness as she competes at the WTA Finals for the fifth time, and the first time since 2017. She missed last year’s tournament due to a back injury.
The world No. 5 reached the semi-finals of the season-ending showpiece on her debut appearance in 2014, but the Romanian has not gone beyond the round-robin stage since then, and she is again faced with a typically difficult challenge at the Finals this year.
“It’s a very tough group. They are playing very solid, and they are very solid, actually,” the Romanian said. “It’s a big challenge for me, coming back from an injury to face them, so I will give my best and try to play as good as possible to win the match”.
Halep’s recent form does not offer much encouragement heading into this contest, and the injury clouds do not help, against a player who always seems to produce her best in the biggest stage against the biggest players. It’s a wonderful opportunity for Bianca Andreescu to make a winning debut at the WTA Finals.
Bianca Andreescu vs Simona Halep is live from Shenzhen on Monday, 28 October from 8:00pm local time/ 11:00am GMT