Petra Kvitova and Belinda Bencic will attempt to get their WTA Finals campaigns back on track when they go head-to-head in Shenzhen on Tuesday.
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Kvitova and Bencic are winless in the Red Group, following defeats to Naomi Osaka and Ashleigh Barty in their respective opening group matches, but one of them will get off the mark on Tuesday and improve her chances of qualifying for the semi-finals. Depending on the result of the other group match between Osaka and Barty, which will be played earlier in the day, whoever loses between Kvitova and Bencic might be eliminated from the season-ending tournament.
Kvitova won the year-end Finals in her debut appearance in 2011, when the tournament was staged in Istanbul, while she was runner-up in Singapore in 2015, losing to Agnieszka Radwanska in the final, but she has not won a match at the WTA Finals since then, missing out of the event in 2016 and 2017, and losing all of her three robin-matches in 2018. Hence, she heads into Tuesday’s meeting with Bencic on a five-match losing streak at the WTA Finals.
The latest of those defeats was against Naomi Osaka in her 2019 opener on Sunday. In a repeat of their Australian Open final, Kvitova made a positive and aggressive start, and was rewarded with a 4-2 lead, but her form deserted her in the latter half of the opening set- donating a rash of double faults in the eight game to surrender the break, and then playing a very poor tie break to give up the opening set. Kvitova fought back to take the second set, but she was again second best in the deciding set, as Osaka raised her game and opened up a 5-2 lead. Kvitova made one last stand, saving two match points from 5-2 40-15 down to get one of the breaks back, but Osaka closed out the match when she next stepped up to the line, winning 7-6 4-6 6-4- a result not too dissimilar to what she produced against the Czech at the Australian Open final.
Despite losing that final in Melbourne, the Australian Open remains one of the high points of Kvitova’s season, as it was her first Grand Slam final since 2014, and her first since she suffered that infamous career-threatening knife attack at the end of 2016. She has won titles in Sydney and Stuttgart this year, made a semi-final in Wuhan, and jumped as high as No. 2 in the world for the first time since 2015. Had she beaten Osaka at the Australian Open, she would have become No. 1 for the first time in her career. She has had injury problems in the course of the season, notably missing Roland Garros with a forearm injury, but she’s shown decent form in Asia in recent weeks, making the semi-finals in Wuhan, and the last eight in Beijing. She did not get off to the best start in Shenzhen- can she get back on track by beating Bencic on Tuesday?
While Kvitova is a veteran of multiple WTA Finals, Bencic is featuring at the year-end tournament for the first time following a career-best season that has seen her return to the top-ten.
The world No. 7 made an encouraging start to her Shenzhen campaign, breaking late to take the first set against Ashleigh Barty on Sunday, but she completely lost her way after that, as Barty raised her level, winning just three more games in the remainder of the match.
The 5-7 6-1 6-2 defeat snapped her four-match winning streak, which she had built up in her title-winning run in Moscow in the final week of the WTA regular season. It was in Moscow that she secured her Shenzhen spot, confirming her place amongst the elite eight in the Russian capital. Bencic has had to be patient over the last couple of seasons, gradually working her way back to the top of the game after her injury problems.
She was ranked as high as seventh in the world as a teenager in 2016, but she was out of the top 300 by September of the following year after undergoing wrist surgery. It was a tough road back for the Swiss, who stepped down as low as the ITF Tour before gradually re-acquainting herself with the WTA. Bencic was back in the top-100 by the end of 2017, she ended 2018 at 54th in the world, and has surged back to seventh in 2019.
She had a superb spell between Dubai and Indian Wells, beating four top-ten players- Aryna Sabalenka, Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina and Petra Kvitova- in her title run in Dubai; and two more- Karolina Pliskova and Naomi Osaka- in reaching the semi-finals at Indian Wells, where she was eventually stopped by Angelique Kerber. She was a finalist in Mallorca (lost to Sofia Kenin), while she also made semi-finals in Hobart, Madrid, and most notably, the US Open, where she reached her maiden Grand Slam semi-final.
She’s definitely still in with a shot of another semi-final in Shenzhen, and she will look to boost those chances by beating Petra Kvitova in her second group match on Tuesday. Her record against Kvitova isn’t the best, as she has lost four of their previous five encounters- her solitary win coming in the Dubai final earlier this year. Kvitova has dominated their other meetings this year, easing to straight set wins at the Australian Open, and in their most recent encounter in Beijing earlier this month.
Unlike Osaka, who troubled Kvitova with her big serve and groundstrokes, Bencic does not have that heavy artillery, but instead relies on a wonderful ability to hold the baseline and take the ball early in either direction to put her opponents under pressure. Problem is she might be prevented from doing all of that by an aggressive Kvitova on Tuesday. With her strong returning, I feel Kvitova will get opportunities on Bencic’s serve, and if the Czech maintains good numbers on her own deliveries, she will likely be too good for the Swiss yet again.
Petra Kvitova vs Belinda Bencic is live from Shenzhen on Tuesday, 29 October from 8:00pm local time/ 12:00pm GMT