Sofia Kenin and Karolina Muchova meet for the first time on Friday as they battle for a semi-final spot at the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai.
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Both Kenin and Muchova have identical 1-0 records in the round-robin phase of the tournament, following victories over the other member of the group, Alison Riske, who has now been eliminated, making Friday’s meeting an effective quarter final to decide the group winner, and semi-finalist from the Camellia Group.
Second seed Kenin took early control of the group with a 6-4 6-4 victory over Riske on Tuesday, taking the first step towards what she hopes will be a fourth title of a tremendous season.
The 20-year-old American has already picked up titles in Hobart, Mallorca and Guangzhou, while she made another final in Acapulco and contested marquee semi-finals in Toronto and Cincinnati. She has surged to 12th on the WTA rankings, having started off 2019 outside the top 50.
Kenin is not necessarily renowned for her serving, but that shot was in fine order in her Zhuhai opener against Riske, against whom she dropped just five points on her first serve, and did not give up any break points through the course of the one-hour 14-minute encounter. She was ruthless when she got her opportunities, breaking Riske to love once in each set.
“I just feel like I played really well, I served well. Ali is a tough player, she’s had a really good year and it wasn’t easy for me to play her, we’re really good friends and she’s really nice,” Kenin said after the match.
“I didn’t serve this well in practice. I felt like I adjusted to her game tactically, what she does, how she likes to serve, where, and I think I did a good job covering it.”
While Kenin rested on Wednesday, Riske was back in action against Muchova, needing to win to stay in the tournament.
She started very well, winning five straight games from 1-2 down to take the opening set 6-2, but Muchova hit back in the second, racing through the first five games en route claiming the set, and forcing a decider. Again, Riske made the better start in the final set, as she twice led by a break, but Muchova fought back on each occasion to restore parity, before carving out a late break to snatch a 2-6 6-2 7-5 victory.
Muchova was the last player to confirm her spot in Zhuhai following her semi-final run at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow, earning the chance to sign off a career-best season with a second WTA title.
The world No. 26 claimed her first title in Seoul last month, beating Magda Linette in the final. She had reached her maiden tour-level final in Prague in May, falling just short against Jil Teichmann. The exciting Czech made three other quarter finals, most significantly at Wimbledon, where she notably defeated Karolina Pliskova before losing in two tight sets to Elina Svitolina. She also got to the third round of the US Open, accounting for Elena Rybakina and Su-Wei Hsieh before losing to Serena Williams. The 23-year-old has risen dramatically in 2019, jumping over 100 spots from 144th at the start to a current ranking of 26th.
A fourth semi-final of the season beckons as she confronts Sofia Kenin for the first time on Friday.
Muchova plays a very exciting brand of tennis, with plenty of variety in her game, but Kenin is a solid and steady performer, and has been performing consistently at a very high level over the last few months. I reckon the American will be just too tough for Muchova on Friday.
Sofia Kenin vs Karolina Muchova is live from Zhuhai on Friday, 25 October from 3:00pm local time/ 8:00pm BST