Aryna Sabalenka has a 1-4 record against Kiki Bertens but has never lost a WTA Tour final played in China – something’s got to give as the two face off in the final of the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai.
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Kiki Bertens and Aryna Sabalenka face off in a dream final at the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai – its their fourth meeting of 2019 but who will end their singles season with a win?
World no. 10 Bertens was hoping to be in the field for the WTA Finals Shenzhen, which starts on Sunday, but after being pipped at the post by Belinda Bencic’s run to the Kremlin Cup title in Moscow, she has rebounded superbly to lead the draw at the second-tier season-ending championship – and battled her way to three excellent wins, and the final in Zhuhai.
Arguably Bertens couldn’t have landed in a tougher group in Zhuhai, but after straight-sets wins over Donna Vekic and Dayana Yastremska to reach the semifinals, it was Chinese wildcard Zheng Saisai who gave Bertens her biggest test of the week. The Dutch player had to come back from a set and a break down, trailing San Jose champion Zheng Saisai 2-6, 1-2 before winning nine of the next 11 games to lead 4-1 in the decider. There was another twist to come as Zheng battled back to 4-4, but Bertens lifted her game once again and Zheng, once again, could not stay with her as Bertens wrapped up a 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory.
Bertens will not have been too pleased with seven double faults which contributed to only 14 of 40 second-serve points won throughout the two-hour, 22-minute contest, but when she was being outplayed and trailing by the scoreline, she employed one of her great strengths – the variety of options she has available to her in her game – and amped up the aggression and shortened the points to change the dynamic of the match, battling well down the stretch.
‘I knew I had to do something else, because Saisai was putting so much balls back on the court and I just had not the energy to play those long rallies,’ Bertens said.
‘I was just mixing it up, trying to do some serve and volley, which was working pretty well, I was surprised with that. So I just kept on going for it. She gave me some mistakes also, so then I start believing that I could still turn this match around.’
Bertens has played two straight-set matches and one three-setter this week: So too has her opponent in the final, Aryna Sabalenka.
Sabalenka’s lengthiest tussle of the tournament came against Elise Mertens – her doubles partner, with whom she will be playing at the WTA Finals Shenzhen – in the round-robin stage on Friday, and lasted two hours and 22 minutes, the same length of time as Bertens’s victory over Zheng on Saturday.
Sabalenka had a narrow escape from being dragged to a third set by Karolina Muchova in the semifinals, with the Czech – a surprise Wimbledon quarterfinalist this year, and enjoying a brilliant breakthrough 2019 – serving for the second set twice and even leading by a mini-break very early in the tie-break before Sabalenka unleashed a mammoth forehand to level. Ultimately, it was Sabalenka’s trademark baseline power and a judicious challenge which recouped a point which seemed to have gone against her which saw the Belarusian come through a breathless battle 7-5, 7-6(4) in an hour and 55 minutes.
It’s the fourth final of Sabalenka’s season, and three of them have come in China – Shenzhen in January, a successful title defense in Wuhan and now Zhuhai. The exception was the one that she lost – San Jose, where she finished runner-up to Zheng.
‘I think China loves me and I love it too, so the results here are really good and unbelievable, so I’ll just try to keep being here,’ Sabalenka said.
‘After the experience I had this year, I’m not focusing on the ranking any more, I’m focusing on my game and just to put everything on the court every time I’m playing. So that’s where my focus is right now.’
Sabalenka certainly struggled with the pressure of trying to back up her breakthrough 2018 and many would view her season as underwhelming, but her successful title defense in Wuhan made a big difference to that and ending the year by winning a third title would send her into the off-season (after Shenzhen) surely feeling much more positive about her season.
This will be the third time in 2019 that Bertens and Sabalenka have faced off and the fifth time overall. The Dutch player won the first four, including a straight-sets win over Sabalenka in the semifinals of St Petersburg (she went on to win the title) and a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Sabalenka in Eastbourne, where the Belarusian was defending runner-up points. Sabalenka broke the run of results against her when she beat Bertens 6-1, 7-6(9) on her way to the title in Wuhan.
‘Before the match, it’s just really like getting all the energy together and just trying to give it all, and that’s what I’ve been doing all week,’ Bertens said.
‘I think every day I’m surprising myself what’s still in me, still the fighting spirit. I only can hope that I can have it one more time tomorrow. We’ll prepare as good as we can for tomorrow and hopefully I’ll have one more final push and just give all the energy that’s left in me.’
Both women look like they’re very much feeling the lengthy season that’s gone by, and they’re a great match-up: Sabalenka’s trademark baseline power, which is ferocious, going up against Bertens’s own power from the baseline coupled with her variety and defense. Bertens is the player with the greater number of options and ways to win points, but I thought she looked the more fatigued on Saturday and the more error-prone, and I think Sabalenka will maintain her perfect record in WTA finals played in China in Zhuhai on Sunday.
Bertens vs Sabalenka WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai tennis is live from Zhuhai on Sunday at 1pm local/5am GMT
Bertens vs Sabalenka tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Can Sabalenka maintain perfect record in WTA finals played in China?
Aryna Sabalenka has a 1-4 record against Kiki Bertens but has never lost a WTA Tour final played in China…
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