World No. 1, Ashleigh Barty produced a superb performance to score her first victory over Elina Svitolina, and claim the 2019 WTA Finals title.
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Defending champion, Svitolina entered the match with a 5-0 record over Barty, and a 10-0 run at the WTA Finals, but both streaks was terminated on Sunday, as Barty ran out a 6-4 6-3 victor in Shenzhen.
It marks a fitting end to a wonderful season for Barty, who had earlier claimed a maiden Grand Slam title at Roland Garros and a first Premier Mandatory title in Miami. The Australian also won in Birmingham, all of which have culminated in her ending the year at No. 1 for the first time.
“Bizarre, if I’m being completely honest,” Barty said after her WTA Finals victory. “It feels like it’s been a year that just hasn’t stopped. It’s been a year of incredible ups and downs – I think more ups than downs. To cap it off with a very, very special night tonight in Shenzhen is really cool.”
The 23-year-old becomes the first Australian to win the WTA Finals since Evonne Goolagong Crawley claimed the prestigious title in 1976, and for her efforts, she gets the biggest prize money in tennis- an immense $4.42 million. Barty also becomes just the fifth player to win the WTA Finals singles title on debut. The Australian won four of her five matches in Shenzhen, beating Belinda Bencic and Petra Kvitova, either side of a loss to Kiki Bertens in the round-robin phase; she battled back from a set down to beat Karolina Pliskova in the semi-finals before finishing off with victory over Svitolina on Sunday.
“To come through a week like this, you have to beat the best of the best. It takes me back to some memories in Miami where I felt like I did that for the first time, beating back-to-back Top 10 players, having that really consistent week”, continued Barty. “I’ve grown and developed so much since that fortnight in Miami. To be able to bounce back after the disappointment after my match with Kiki [Bertens] was really important”.
A tight opening on Sunday saw Barty and Svitolina hold comfortably in the first eight games, with neither player able to get to deuce on the other’s serve, but opportunities began to emerge as the set reached its conclusion. Svitolina carved out the first break point with an easy put away at the net having regained control of the point with an incredible lob, but she missed a forehand under pressure on the next point, pushing her effort into the tramlines. The Ukrainian forced a couple more deuces, but Barty wriggled out of the game, reaching game point with an ace and securing a pivotal hold at the forecourt.
Having looked so secure on serve up until that point, Svitolina blinked as she served to stay in the set, offering two errors to slip to 0-30. Barty returned the favour with two errors of her own, but she continued to press, with the forehand playing a prominent part in her push for the set-winning break of serve.
Barty failed to convert two set points- she missed the first with an errant inside-out forehand, but could do nothing on the second as Svitolina produced a superb forehand pass under extreme pressure, but it was the Barty forehand that would have the final say.
There was plenty of luck around the creation of her third set point, with her forehand catching the net cord and dropping in Svitolina’s half of the court, but there was no fortune associated with the conversion, as the Australian unfurled a clean forehand return winner off a Svitolina second serve to take the opener.
The world No. 1 was rewarded for her aggression in that opening set, striking 19 winners and 18 unforced errors. She was particularly lethal off the forehand wing, and was always willing to get to the net and finish off points with her excellent forecourt skills. Her famous backhand slice also worked very well, as she often dragged Svitolina into uncomfortable positions with that shot. In the end, the variety coming off the Australian’s racket was just too much for the defending champion.
“Tonight it felt like it was a lot more clear, a lot more concise from my end. I took my opportunities when I got them”, the Australian said… “[The forehand] was a side that I wanted to try to get into tonight. I think it was also important for me to move forward, then to try to bring Elina in a few times as well, which worked really well.”
Svitolina was not going to give up her title without a fight, and it was the Ukrainian who got the first break of the second set, aided by some loose errors by Barty in the third game, including a double fault on break point. Her advantage was short-lived though. Barty responded magnificently to being broken, winning the next three games, and while she dropped her serve for a second time in the set at 4-2, she would not be denied, closing out a superb 6-4 6-3 victory after an hour and 27 minutes.
Barty has come a long way since her junior days, when she was ranked No. 2 in the world and won the Wimbledon Girls’ title. She was out of the sport for almost two years, as she walked away from the demands and rigours of professional tennis, and that has proven to be an inspired decision, as she has been on an unbroken upward trajectory since she returned to tennis in 2016.
She now sits atop the tree, and at just 23 years old, she looks set for a long stay in the top echelon of the women’s game.