The WTA Finals Shenzhen kicks off with a bang as Naomi Osaka faces Petra Kvitova in a rematch of the Australian Open final in the first match of the season-ending championships.
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Naomi Osaka is on a ten-match winning streak but has never won a match at the WTA Finals – Petra Kvitova is the most experienced player in the field, but has never beaten Osaka. Who will get the first win of the season-ending championships in Shenzhen?
Osaka comes into the WTA Finals, played in Shenzhen for the first time this year, on a ten-match winning streak and arguably the form player of the field, having rebounded superbly from her failure to defend her US Open title – defeated by Belinda Bencic in the round of 16 – by claiming first the Toray Pan-Pacific Open title in Osaka, then the China Open title in Beijing, defeating Bianca Andreescu and Ashleigh Barty in the process.
Against this excellent form has to be weighed Osaka’s poor record at the WTA Finals. On her debut at the season-ending championships in 2018, Osaka failed to win a single match, losing three-set battles to Angelique Kerber and Sloane Stephens before retiring against Kiki Bertens when trailing 3-6. Osaka was struggling with injury, as the retirement against Bertens indicated, but it was still not a great debut. She also has been unfortunate to land in the same group as Bencic, who has beaten her three times in 2019. If Osaka cannot beat Bencic in their forthcoming round-robin encounter – and it seems unlikely that she will, as the Swiss player is a bad match-up for her – it means there is absolutely no room for error when it comes to taking on Kvitova and Ashleigh Barty in the other round-robin matches if Osaka is to give herself the best chance possible of making the semifinals.
The consensus seems to be among the players that the court in Shenzhen is playing slow, even slower than Singapore – which would seem to favour the counterpunchers – but also low-bouncing, which would perhaps favour Kvitova more than Osaka.
Experience is also on Kvitova’s side, to say the least. The world no. 6 jokingly complained on Twitter today about how everybody is asking her how it feels to be the oldest woman in the WTA Finals field:
But in addition to being the oldest woman in the Red Group by six years, Kvitova is the most experienced player in Shenzhen this year. She has qualified more times than anybody else – this will be her sixth appearance – played and won more matches than anybody else, and is the only woman in the field to have reached multiple finals, winning the title in 2011 and finishing runner-up to Agnieszka Radwanska in 2015.
Experience can be overrated, however – after all, Kvitova won the season-ending championships on her debut in 2011, and like Osaka, she went 0-3 in 2018.
‘I just realized yesterday that I’m the oldest one of them, which feels pretty weird,’ Kvitova said. ‘But I’m going to take it. I spoke with Simona, she’s just one year younger. We made some fun of it.
‘But we’ll see. They are here for the first time – not Naomi – but those who are here for the first time, not the last time probably. We’re going to see them often, I think. The new faces are coming. It’s normal that the generation is just changing.’
Despite her gracious words, there’s no doubt that Kvitova would like to hold off the advance of the youngsters in her group for a while. But there isn’t much form for the Czech player to draw on coming into this tournament. While Kvitova had an excellent first five months of 2019, reaching her first Grand Slam final for five years at the Australian Open, winning Sydney and Stuttgart and making the final in Dubai, she suffered a left forearm injury in Rome which saw her retire against Maria Sakkari, pull out of the French Open, come into Wimbledon dangerously undercooked and lose in the last 16, and go 1-2 in Cincinnati and at the US Open.
Kvitova did have her best results for a while on the Asian swing, reaching the semifinals in Wuhan before losing 5-7, 5-7 to Alison Riske and going on to make the quarterfinals in Beijing before losing to Barty in three sets. But again, the draw hasn’t done her many favours: She has lost to all three women in the Red Group in 2019, including Osaka in the Australian Open final, which was their only meeting to date.
Osaka obviously won that one 7-6(2), 5-7, 6-4, and although Kvitova saved a bunch of match points in the second set to take it to a decider, it felt like she was playing a rearguard action for much of the contest – and this was when Kvitova was playing some absolutely dazzling tennis. Osaka absolutely had Kvitova’s number on return, positioning herself to cut off the Czech’s wide serve, and Kvitova wasn’t able to find the accuracy she needed to mix it up sufficiently with big T and body deliveries to neutralize that smart tactic from Osaka. Backed up with Osaka’s fantastic play from the baseline, it was enough for the Japanese-Haitian player to get the win despite Kvitova’s fine form in Melbourne and it should be enough for Osaka to get her first victory in Shenzhen, because Kvitova is not the most adaptable of players.
Osaka vs Kvitova WTA Finals Shenzhen tennis is live from Shenzhen on Sunday at 4.30pm local/8.30am GMT
Osaka vs Kvitova tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Rematch of the Australian Open final kicks off WTA Finals Shenzhen
The WTA Finals Shenzhen kicks off with a bang as Naomi Osaka faces Petra Kvitova in a rematch of the…
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