French Open champion Barty has already booked her place at the WTA Finals Shenzhen, where she will be making her debut after a brilliant season which has seen her win three titles including her maiden Grand Slam at Roland Garros, but is looking to make her first final since Birmingham in June.
The Asian swing has already been kind to Barty after the Australian suffered slightly disappointing fourth-round defeats at Wimbledon and the US Open, as Barty made her third semifinal at the Wuhan Open before losing to Aryna Sabalenka. But the top seed played by far her best match for some time in the quarterfinals in Beijing on Friday as she took on Petra Kvitova, also in good form having made the semifinals in Wuhan last week and a former China Open finalist.
Kvitova came into the match leading the head-to-head 4-1 and having beaten Barty twice in 2019, although the Australian did win their last encounter at the Miami Open in March, and the Czech – still hoping to secure a place at the WTA Finals – took a 6-4 lead before Barty surged back to win in three. Although Barty’s nine aces were off-set by eight double faults, she won 71% of points behind her first serve and, most crucially, saved five of the seven break points she faced while Kvitova was only able to save three of six. In a match of extremely fine margins, it made all the difference – and it’s also extremely encouraging for Barty’s hopes of making a strong end to the season that she was able to keep producing her best tennis on big points throughout the match, unlike her patchy performance against Zheng Saisai in the previous round when she dropped an error-strewn second set.
‘From my opinion, that was one of the highest quality matches I played all year,’ Barty said after wrapping up the 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory in two hours and nine minutes. ‘Petra always has a way of bringing out the best in me, she really does.’
In Kiki Bertens’s case, it wasn’t so much the opponent bringing out the best in her but the situation, as the Dutch player rose to the occasion to win a clash that could be crucial in determining the line-up at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen.
Bertens beat defending WTA Finals champion Elina Svitolina 7-6(6), 6-2 to secure her place in the China Open semifinals, and by doing so overtook Belinda Bencic (who lost in the round of 16 to Kvitova) for ninth place in the Road to Shenzhen – which, with Serena Williams almost certainly not playing, will be good enough to qualify.
Bencic now needs to win the title in Linz in order to knock Bertens out of the field, so it’s already a big move from Bertens this week – but the Dutch player can do even better: If she makes the final in Beijing, she can overtake Svitolina in seventh place, leaving Svitolina and Bencic battling for the last spot in Shenzhen.
Svitolina has been struggling recently with knee pain, which saw her withdraw in Guangzhou a couple of weeks ago, but led the head-to-head with Bertens 2-1 coming into this match and managed to dig herself out of a 1-4 hold to force the first set to a tie-break, coming back from 0-4 down in the tie-break too only to lose it when Bertens found a great volley to elicit set point and clinched the set when Svitolina went long off the ground.
Bertens raced through the second set and wrapped up victory 7-6(6), 6-2, despite appearing to jam her right ankle as she chased down a ball. Bertens saw the trainer but did not have an MTO and was quoted by @WTA_Insider as saying: ‘We have to see how it is tomorrow. But for sure I’m just going to give everything what’s still in me and ignore the pain.’
After underwhelming results for Bertens on grass and American hard courts, which led to a separation from coach Raemon Sluiter (possibly only temporary) after she lost to Julia Goerges at the US Open, and some tough defeats to Ajla Tomljanovic, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Aryna Sabalenka through the Asian swing so far, this performance from Bertens is a welcome surprise.
‘I think this week I played some better tennis again,’ the world no. 8 said after beating Svitolina.
‘When you start to play better, get the wins, be in the semifinals, of course also you still need points for Shenzhen, I think then with some pressure and playing better all the time, it’s good for me. It says for myself that I was growing a lot over the last few years.’
Barty has an unbeaten record against Bertens, having won all three of their previous matches, although in both of their 2019 encounters Bertens won the first set.
‘It’s tough to play [Barty] because she’s playing so different than all the other girls,’ Bertens said. ‘Most of the time they’re playing really aggressive. Ash is also playing aggressive, but in her own way. A lot of slices, then some more heavy on the forehand, good serve. I think we play a little bit similar. Of course, she’s coming to the net also a lot. It makes it tough.
‘But I just have to be patient, just try to play aggressive where I can, try to hang in the points where I have to.’
Bertens attacked the net superbly against Svitolina, but might struggle to do so as much against Barty, a player who has many more attacking options – and her ankle is a cause for concern. If Barty can produce a similar performance to the one she came up with against Kvitova, it should be the Australian player who books her place in a second Premier Mandatory final in 2019.
Barty vs Bertens China Open tennis is live from Beijing on Saturday at 2.30pm local/7.30am BST
Barty vs Bertens tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Miami and Madrid champions face off for a place in the Beijing final
Will it be Miami Open champion Ashleigh Barty or Madrid Open champion Kiki Bertens who makes their second Premier Mandatory…
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