Two players making their singles debut at the WTA Finals Shenzhen face off on Sunday as Ashleigh Barty takes on Belinda Bencic.
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Ashleigh Barty and Belinda Bencic face off for the first time at the WTA Finals Shenzhen on Sunday.
The first to qualify and the last to qualify respectively, Barty and Bencic are two of the three players making their debut at the WTA Finals Shenzhen (in singles – Barty has played the doubles tournament before) and we can definitely expect to see some nerves out there, as both women will be keen to get off to a winning start in the Red Group.
The official winner of the Road to Shenzhen (and consequently of a new Porsche), Barty has won more matches in 2019 than anybody else in the Shenzhen field, compiling a 52-11 win-loss record – an 82.5% rate of matches won this year, better than anybody else among the elite eight apart from Bianca Andreescu, who played parts of the season at a lower level and did not have to change surfaces much. Barty is also one of the players who comes in to Shenzhen in good form, having got a good number of match wins under her belt since the US Open without having to over-play – she compiled a 7-2 record in Wuhan and Beijing, reaching the semifinals of the former and finishing runner-up at the latter with defeats to Aryna Sabalenka and Naomi Osaka.
Barty, whose season will not be over after Shenzhen – she still has to play the Fed Cup final – disdained any potential ‘favourite’ tag, however (in point of fact, the favourite with the oddsmakers to win the season-ending championships is US Open champion Bianca Andreescu).
‘In my opinion, I don’t think there ever is a favorite,’ Barty said during pre-tournament press. ‘I think everyone is deserving to win that’s in the draw. Everyone has earned their place here and has the right to try to do the best they can to try and win.
‘On any given day, anyone can be beaten. That’s the beauty of sport, there are no certainties. There’s always an opportunity for someone to try and bring their best.’
It’s a very level-headed way to approach the situation, and thus typical of the down-to-earth Barty. But at the same time, there are good reasons not to expect too much from the Australian this week. For one thing, this is her WTA Finals debut and the pressure is on as she leads the field as top seed – and this can be a difficult event to navigate for the first time, because round-robin is so different from usual tournament play, and there is so much media attention surrounding the event. For another, she actually has the worst record in the field against the other seven – a combined 7-16, and a 3-6 record against the rest of the Red Group.
The last to qualify for Shenzhen, having leapfrogged Kiki Bertens (and defending champion Elina Svitolina in the rankings, although Svitolina had already qualified) with her run to the title at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow, Bencic has benefited from the WTA Finals being pushed back a week in 2019: In previous years, she would have had to come straight from Moscow to Shenzhen with no more than a day to rest.
The schedule has been less grueling this year with Zhuhai and Shenzhen switching places, but Bencic has still pushed herself hard to make the WTA Finals, playing four of five potential weeks since the US Open in a bid to secure her spot. Bencic did not have to play many matches in Wuhan, Beijing and Linz, however, going 2-3 at those three events, before winning four matches to pick up her second title of the year in Moscow.
Also a runner-up in Mallorca, where she was denied by Sofia Kenin, and a semifinalist at the US Open, it’s Bencic’s brilliant spring run which remains the indelible impression left by her season. The Swiss player, a US Open quarterfinalist as a precocious teenager and ranked as high as world no. 7 in 2016, had slumped down the rankings following struggles with injury, but battled her way back into the top 50 at the start of the year – then put together a fantastic run, beating four top-10 players in a row to win Dubai before going on to extend her winning streak to 12 matches by making the semifinals of Indian Wells before going out to Angelique Kerber.
With a 9-6 record against top-10 players in 2019, multiple wins over Naomi Osaka and one over Petra Kvitova, Bencic looks like an excellent prospect to make the semifinals from the Red Group – but how her game will match up against Barty’s is a bit of an unknown. I like Bencic’s chances a lot, however. Barty’s game is built around first-strike tennis predicated on landing an effective blow with her first serve, and Bencic’s aggressive returning has been a real feature of her excellent season; she should be able to get Barty off-balance immediately in the point with that, and with the reportedly low-bouncing court not helping Barty’s kick serve, things seem lined up nicely for Bencic to get off to a winning start the WTA Finals on Sunday.
Bencic vs Barty WTA Finals Shenzhen tennis is live from Shenzhen on Sunday at 6pm local/10am GMT
Barty vs Bencic tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Top seed Barty faces Moscow champion Bencic in Shenzhen
Two players making their singles debut at the WTA Finals Shenzhen face off on Sunday as Ashleigh Barty takes on…
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