The Red Group donned its color in appropriate fashion on Tuesday at the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, as a pair of outcomes created a bloodbath heading into Thursday’s final round-robin matchups.
Last-minute alternate Kiki Bertens notched her first win over world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, before Belinda Bencic toppled 2011 champion Petra Kvitova, 6-3, 1-6, 6-4, in one hour and 48 minutes. As a result, all four players remain in contention to qualify for the semifinals.
"For me personally, it's so difficult to play Petra," Bencic said in an on-court interview. "Her game is just really big. I didn't get much rhythm. I'm so happy at the end, I could keep my nerves calm."
Entering the match, Bencic’s health was a topic of discussion after she had her left heel taped during a three-set loss to Barty on Sunday. There were no indications of discomfort against Kvitova, who had won nine of 11 sets played in their five prior meetings—including a 6-3, 6-3 victory in Beijing just four weeks ago.
Re-live the action as defending champion Elina Svitolina booked her spot in the final of the 2019 Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen with a defeat of Belinda Bencic.
It's Semifinal Saturday at the 2019 Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen and first up we have defending champion and No.8 Elina Svitolina, who is riding an 9-match winning streak at the WTA Finals, taking on No.7 and tournament debutante Belinda Bencic for a spot in Sunday's final.
Svitolina has looked impervious in Shenzhen, moving through the round-robin phase without losing a set to win the Purple Group. Bencic has scored two tough wins over Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens to make the semifinals in her first appearance at the WTA Finals.
No.2 seeds Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova ended the Cinderella run of No.8 seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Demi Schuurs in the semifinals of the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, 6-1, 6-2.
The Wimbledon champions were dominant across the 55-minute clash to set a date with No.3 seeds and defending champions Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic in Sunday's championship, as they look to win their first season-ending title as a pair.
Top-ranked Ashleigh Barty capped off her tremendous 2019 WTA season of firsts to win the largest purse in tennis history on Sunday, defeating defending champion Elina Svitolina, 6-4, 6-3, at the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen to pick up her fourth title of the year and a $4.42 million prize money check.
With the win, Barty added her first Billie Jean King Trophy to earlier breakthroughs at Roland Garros—her first major singles title, Miami—her first Premier Mandatory title, and Birmingham—her biggest career grass crown. During the round-robin stage, Barty became the first Australian to clinch the WTA’s year-end No. 1 ranking and finishes as her tour’s match wins leader with 56 victories. She also claimed her first win over Svitolina in six attempts to deny the eighth seed her first trophy of the year.
"It's been the most incredible year for me," summed up Barty during the trophy presentation.
Neither player was put under pressure on serve until the ninth game, when Barty saved the first break point of the match in a near seven-minute game to hold for 5-4. Throughout the set, the Australian looked to match her forehand up against Svitolina’s, a tactic that reaped rewards in the ensuing game. Barty hit four inside-in forehand winners, including a return winner on her third set point, to secure just her third set in 13 played against the world No. 8. Barty struck 19 winners to six from Svitolina.
A loose game from Barty, culminating with a double fault, saw Svitolina take a 2-1 lead in the second set. Remaining composed, Barty showed off her all-court game, getting up for a tough overhead to break back and held to love to regain control.
Svitolina’s coach, Andrew Bettles, came to the court urging her to stay positive, stating, “You can do this. You need to get back to the tactics we spoke about before. You’re straying away from it slightly. Go out there with renewed purpose. Stay with the hard shots into the backhand side. Hard and fast. You just backed off a bit. She got too much in the middle of the court and could dictate with her forehand.”
The WTA Finals, completed Sunday with Ashleigh Barty locking down the coveted year-end No. 1 ranking, was a rich event in more ways than the record prize money. The event in Shenzhen, China, also produced a number of storylines sure to impact the coming year. Let's look at five of them:
Ashleigh Barty is the real deal Sure-handed and imperturbable, Barty rose to the occasion in a way that suggests the slight (5-foot-5) but versatile Australian has the game and disposition to be the dominant force in the WTA. Even when her dependable forehand disappeared in the mid-portion of her win over defending champion Elina Svitolina, Barty, as analyst Lindsay Davenport said, "kept her head down and continued to work."
The contrast between rising Barty and collapsing Svitolina near the end of the match was telling, the final result an exoneration of the 23-year-old former prodigy.
Fresh off her maiden Grand Slam win in the French Open, Barty won the title at Birmingham and reached the No. 1 ranking. Much was expected of her at Wimbledon, as grass-court proficiency is in the Aussie DNA, but she faltered in the fourth round against Alison Riske. She lost at that same stage at the US Open to No. 18 Qiang Wang.