Top seed, Kiki Bertens will take on local favourite, Saisai Zheng in the semi-finals of the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai on Saturday after both players won their respective groups in the round-robin phase of the competition.
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Bertens won both of her matches in the Azalea Group, beating Donna Vekic 7-6 6-2 and Dayana Yastremska 6-4 6-3 to book her passage into the last four, while Zheng had a more complicated route into the semis, scaling through the Orchid Group with a 1-1 record, beating Madison Keys and losing to Petra Martic.
Given the form she showed in the first seven months of the season, Bertens would have expected to be competing at next week’s WTA Finals in Shenzhen instead of Zhuhai, but her form dipped during the North American hard courts swing from August, which effectively cost her a spot in the WTA Finals. Still, Zhuhai presents her the opportunity to close out a generally fine season on a high.
Bertens claimed titles in St. Petersburg and Madrid in those first seven months- her Madrid success significant as it was her first title at Premier Mandatory level- while she made finals in s-Hertogenbosch and Palermo; and semi-finals in Sydney, Stuttgart, Rome and Eastbourne, peaking at a career-high No. 4 in the world as a result of these results.
However, she fell away after that Palermo final, failing to reach a quarter final in her next six tournaments. Bertens found some form as the season wound to a close, making the semi-finals at the Premier Mandatory meet in Beijing, and a couple of quarter finals Linz and Moscow, and she has now advanced to her just her second semi-final in 10 tournaments following victories over Vekic and Yastremska in Zhuhai.
“…just really proud and happy”, Bertens said about her efforts in Zhuhai. “I feel like my body’s falling apart… But I think every match I’m just like, OK, maybe this is your last match of the season – so just give everything, and that’s what I did”.
She will be looking to produce two more big efforts in search of a title-winning conclusion to 2019- starting off with Saturday’s Zhuhai semi-final against local favourite, Zheng.
Competing as a wildcard at the tournament, Zheng secured her semi-final spot in dramatic circumstances, advancing at the expense of Petra Martic despite losing to the Croatian in the final match of the Orchid Group on Friday.
Zheng had opened her campaign with an impressive 6-4 6-2 victory over American Madison Keys, but she needed to take at least seven games off Martic in her second group match to claim a spot in the last four. Martic, on the other hand, needed to win and not concede more than six games.
The Croatian looked on course to snatching that semi-final berth when she held a 6-4 4-2 15-40 lead, but Zheng fended off those break points in the seventh game of the second set to secure the hold that put her into the semi-finals at Martic’s expense.
“I was pretty tight because I knew I don’t need to win the match, so I was like scared a little bit. It’s really the first time the feeling how I played — very nervous”, admitted Zheng, who is competing at the WTA Elite Trophy for the second time following her debut appearance in 2015. (She didn’t cross the group phase in 2015 after losing to Keys and Venus Williams).
“It’s been a fantastic journey for me. Four years ago I just started my WTA journey and it’s on a rising path”, she continued. “For the past few years there are ups and downs, I experienced some injuries, and this time I did pretty well, the first match is a solid win and today I also kind of passed the test. So it’s been an acknowledgment of my effort for the past four years”.
Zheng is into just her second tour-level semi-final of 2019- the other one coming in San Jose, where went all the way to claim her maiden tour-level title, beating Aryna Sabalenka in the final for her first top-ten win since 2017, and the fifth in her career. Other notable results include quarter finals in Hua Hin, Acapulco and Zhengzhou, while she made the third round at Premier Mandatory tournaments in Madrid and Beijing. The 25-year-old also won a WTA 125K title in Anning in April, and has peaked at a career-high 36th on the WTA rankings this season. She is currently ranked 40th in the world.
Zheng was beaten 6-3 6-2 by Bertens in their only previous encounter in Miami in 2016, and she will again be the underdog on Saturday as she confronts the world No. 10 for a spot in the Zhuhai final.
Bertens has played well this week, and with her combination of power, touch and athleticism, she will likely have a bit too much for the home favourite.
Kiki Bertens vs Saisai Zheng is live from Zhuhai on Saturday, 26 October from 3:00pm local time/ 8:00am BST