After some tough matches for both, Elina Svitolina and Kiki Bertens could be in for another lengthy duel as they face off for a place in the semifinals in Beijing.
*Geo-restrictions apply. Streams available to customers with an active balance
In what could be a pivotal clash in determining the lineup at the WTA Finals Shenzhen in a few weeks, Elina Svitolina faces Kiki Bertens in the quarterfinals of the China Open on Friday.
Both Svitolina and Bertens are trying to secure their spot among the ‘elite eight’ at the season-ending championships with time running out. Defending champion Svitolina sits in eighth place in the official Road to Shenzhen, but her Beijing quarterfinal run has seen her edge into seventh place in the unofficial ‘live’ rankings, and with Serena Williams not expected to play, that should be good enough. But the race is tight, with just 196 points between Svitolina and Bertens, who sits in tenth place in both official and unofficial standings – but could overtake ninth-placed Belinda Bencic, who lost in the third round in Beijing to Petra Kvitova, and slip into qualifying position with a win over Svitolina on Friday.
It would be particularly disastrous for defending champion Svitolina if she was to fail to qualify for the season-ending championships, as well as unfortunate given that this season has included her best ever results at Grand Slam level, having made semifinals at Wimbledon and the US Open. The Ukrainian has certainly been battling grimly through some tough matches in Beijing, especially impressive given that only two weeks ago in Guangzhou she had to retire due to knee pain: Dropping the first set to last year’s runner-up Anastasija Sevastova in the first round before dominating the second and third, then having to edge past Wang Yafan, who beat her in Miami, in a pair of tie-break sets.
It didn’t get any easier for Svitolina against Sofia Kenin on Wednesday – not that it was ever going to, against such an opponent. Kenin is having a great season, and her game is so similar to Svitolinas’s, and the two of them found themselves locked in a late-night war of attrition with the American saving three match points in the second set before pushing the match to a decider.
Svitolina eventually closed out the win 6-3, 6-7(8), 6-3, but if her knees are still bothering her, the grueling two-hour, 34-minute contest will not have helped.
‘It was an extremely tough match and the conditions were very tricky, the ball was flying,’ Svitolina said afterwards. ‘We both had to adjust.
‘But I’m very happy that I could come back after not taking those match points in the second set. But it was extremely tough match and I’m very proud of the effort I did today.’
Kiki Bertens has had a similarly tough trajectory through to the quarterfinals of the China Open, down to dropping a set in the first round and having to come back and win in three against Donna Vekic. The Dutch player impressed with a 7-6(5), 6-3 victory over the impressive Dayana Yastremska in the second round, but had to go battle through three sets again in the third round against Istanbul champion Polona Hercog.
Hercog has come close to winning some big matches in 2019 and she made Bertens work for every point won in a scrappy match, with the Dutch player coming back from 2-5 down in the opening set but unable to repeat the feat in the second and eventually closing out a 7-6(6), 2-6, 6-3 victory in two hours and 17 minutes.
Unlike former semifinalist Svitolina, this is Bertens’s first time in the quarterfinals in Beijing but not, of course, the Dutch player’s first Premier Mandatory quarterfinal: Runner-up to Petra Kvitova in Madrid last year, Bertens went one better at the Caja Magica this May, defeating Simona Halep to claim the title. Also a champion in St Petersburg back in February this year, the last few months have been more of a struggle for Bertens in the wake of an unexpected illness-enforced retirement at the French Open: She made the finals in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Palermo, but had victory snatched from her by a lower-ranked player in both cases; went out in the third rounds of Wimbledon and the US Open, and failed to defend her Cincinnati title; and before coming to Beijing, had gone 1-3 on Asian hard courts in recent weeks.
Bertens hasn’t really been playing like she’s very high on confidence, in other words, which is unfortunate, because Svitolina has been a very tough opponent for her in the past. The Ukrainian leads their head-to-head 2-1, and both wins came on Asian hard courts: In Zhuhai in 2016, and in a very memorable Singapore tussle last year which Svitolina edged 7-5, 6-7(5), 6-4 on her way to the title. The sole win for Bertens came in Cincinnati last summer, on her way to the title.
‘I’ve played a couple of times against her, so I know a little bit what’s her style,’ Svitolina said. ‘It’s good that I have a day off tomorrow, so I’m going to recover and be ready for the quarterfinals.’
Svitolina’s knee issues are the unknown factor here, but having had a rest day on Thursday has to have helped her a lot, and the Ukrainian is fighting tooth and nail right now to get to Shenzhen. Bertens is the more powerful, explosive player, but like many players, struggles to always make that power tell against Svitolina, or find the right blend of patience and aggression against the Ukrainian. A three-set battle seems definitely indicated, but it could well be the determined Svitolina who edges it.
Svitolina vs Bertens China Open tennis is live from Beijing on Friday at 2.30pm local/7.30am BST