Beijiing | Halep dumped as Andreescu shakes off the rust

The shock of the day at the China Open on Monday was the surprising defeat of Simona Halep at the hands of Russian No 1 Ekaterina Alexandrova, who scored the biggest victory of her career in the second-round, 6-2 6-3, in just 64 minutes.

It was a pretty tough match, I think, but I think she didn't play that well Ekaterina Alexandrova

The unseeded Russian took her first Top 10 win of the season in commanding fashion over the 6th-seeded Romanian, who appeared to struggle with the back injury that forced out of last week’s Wuhan Open.

“It was a pretty tough match, I think, but I think she didn’t play that well,” Alexandrova assessed.

“I remember when we played last time in Cincinnati, it was tougher than today, but I tried to stay focused for the whole match because I knew she could play just amazing.

“I tried to stay concentrated and focused, and I’m happy I did that until the end.”

The first 3 games were hard fought and all went the Russian’s way despite Halep’s chances, with the Russian breaking in the Romanian at the outset, and saving 3 break points in her ensuing service game to open up a 3-0 lead.

Although she was pegged back when Halep won 2 straight games, Alexandrova took the next 5 in a row to not only seal the first set, but also a break lead in the second.

Overcoming 8 double faults, 5 of which she hit in the second set when she was twice broken to lose her lead, the big-hitting Russian nonetheless sealed her victory by winning 8 of the last 10 points.

The 24-year-old World No 39 broke the reigning under-par Wimbledon champion’s serve 6 times during the course of the match.

Arriving in Beijing after retiring against Elena Rybakina in the second round in Wuhan, Halep lost just 2 games against Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson in Sunday’s first round, but faced the prospect of playing on consecutive days for the first time since the injury.

“It was a tough one today. I didn’t recover well after my first match, so it was very tough for me to play and she played really well,” Halep said in defeat.

“The injury from Wuhan, it’s getting worse, so I have to go home and take an MRI…take a break and do some treatment.”

Looking to advance to her 6th, and biggest, quarter-final of the season, Alexandrova will next face the winner of the match between Wuhan champion Aryna Sabalenka and compatriot Daria Kasatkina in the round of 16.

“I tried to do the best that I can do. I’m not quite used to the balls, so it’s not easy, especially on serve, but most of the time I felt pretty good today,” Alexandrova added.

“I’m just going to do the same as I did today, stay focused and try to do my best.”

With the first round of the China Open finally completed on Monday after 2 days of play in Beijing, the other major casualties were World No 2, Karolina Pliskova, knocked out by Jelena Ostapenko, and 14th seeded local favourite, Qiang Wang, who conceded to Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic.

Tomljanovic was trailing 5-7 4-5 when the World No 16, a semi-finalist here last year. pulled out due to heat exhaustion, much to the despair of the Beijing crowd.

The Aussie No 2 now faces American Alison Riske, a finalist at the Wuhan last week, for a place in the round of 16.

Angelique Kerber, the German 10th seed, found her way through a topsy-turvy three-setter with the Chinese No 2 Zhang Shuai before claiming a 6-2 1-6 6-4 victory to open her campaign.

“I think it was a tough and tight match,” Kerber told the press, after her win. “I was just trying to play every single point at the end, and just trying to take my chances.

“That was the goal in the third set, and, of course, it’s great to be in the next round.”

Kerber, the winner of 3 major titles including Wimbledon last year, was more successful on break points in the contest, with the German converting 5 of her 7 while Zhang was only able to go 4-for-14.

“The first round is always tough to get your rhythm, to come to the tournament, to feel the ball, to play matches,” said Kerber. “Of course I’ll try to take the emotions and the confidence to the next round.”

Next up for Kerber is Polona Hercog of Slovenia in the second round, after Hercog overcame Julia Goerges in 3 tough sets, 6-7(4) 7-6(5) 6-4.

“I know [Hercog] very well, we’ve played a few times against each other,” Kerber noted. “She’s serving good, she’s hitting good, the ball is really fast and strong.

“I think that I have to play my own game and try, like today, to take my chances.”

Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu had to dig deep as she won her first match since her US Open heroics.

The 19-year-old defeated 60th-ranked Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus, 6-2 2-6 6-1, in what was at times an unconvincing performance, finishing the match with 31 unforced errors.

The World No 6, who stunned Serena Williams in the final at Flushing Meadows, arrived in Beijing on a run of 13 wins in a row and looked all set to carry on her blistering form against Sasnovich, emphatically captured the first set.

She struggled with her serve in the second, however, totting up 6 double faults and was in danger of losing her cool in the haze of the Chinese capital.

Normal order was restored in the decider, Andreescu breaking Sasnovich’s 1st service game and then holding her own to take a 3-0 lead, an advantage she refused to surrender.

In round 2 the Canadian plays Elise Mertens, the World No 23 from Belgium, a 6-2 6-3 winner over Petra Martic.

The WTA announced on Monday that Andreescu and Halep have qualified for the 2019 Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, set to take place from 27 October – 3 November for a record-breaking $14 million in prize money.

The WTA Finals pits the top 8 singles players in the season’s point rankings against each other in a round robin tournament.

Halep and Andreescu become the 3rd and 4th singles players, respectively, to clinch a spot at the year-end event, joining Ashleigh Barty and Karolina Pliskova in Shenzhen, China.

“This has been an incredible year for me and I’m really looking forward to ending the season at the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen,” said Andreescu in a statement.

“I’ve always dreamt of competing at the WTA Finals and I’m so proud of all the work my team and I put in to get to this point.”

At age 19, Andreescu is the youngest player to qualify for the WTA Finals in singles since Wozniacki in 2009, and the 4th Canadian to qualify in singles, the first since Eugenie Bouchard in 2014.

Elsewhere, Kiki Bertens, the No 8 seed from the Netherlands, overcame Dayana Yastemska, 7-6(5) 6-3, to progress to the last 16 in an hour 45 minutes.

Having been forced to battle past Donna Vekic in a lengthy first-round encounter, Bertens took over an hour to seal the opening set but had a marginally easier ride in the second to secure a meeting against either Kerber or Hercog in the 3rd round.

It could have been a simpler passage had she taken her opportunities in the first set, squandering multiple chances to secure a second break in a protracted 7th game that proved pivotal.

Having saved break points, the Ukrainian World No 27, who was coming off her first Top 10 win last week after defeating Karolina Pliskova, hit back and pushed the set into a tiebreak.

Multiple errors allowed Bertens to storm to a 6-1 lead and although the 19-year-old was able to reel her opponent in to 6-5, she had left her comeback too late.

Serve had dominated the opening set, with just 2 breaks, but in the second there were 5.

Bertens produced 3 aces in one game to secure what proved to be a rare hold as she moved 2-1 up, and then stretched out her lead to 4-1.

Yastremska was able to get back on serve by breaking the Dutchwoman, but followed it up with an extremely loose game that ultimately cost her the match.

Meanwhile, 2-time Beijing champion Caroline Wozniacki dropped just 4 games against Lauren Davis to kick off her China Open title defence and move into the second round, 6-1 6-3.

Last year, Wozniacki capped off the best season of her career with a title in Beijing, adding to an impressive haul that included her maiden Grand Slam title at the Australian Open and a title in Eastbourne, and a return to the World No 1 ranking.

She has since struggled with a left leg injury in her first full season following her diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, and reached her only final at the green clay of Charleston this year.

The Dane’s dominant performance against Davis was exactly what she needed to kick off her campaign, recording a run of 8 unanswered games, and firing 16 winners and 7 aces in the process.

Hogging the baseline, she kept the pressure on the American qualifier, and was rewarded with 5 breaks of serve from 9 opportunities.

With her back against the wall, Davis found another level towards the end, swinging freely to record another service hold and growing in confidence.

She applied pressure and was rewarded with a break back to make it 5-3, even getting out to a 40-0 lead in her next service game, but Wozniacki stayed calm to weather Davis’ late surge, and an unforced error put an end to the match after an hour and 10 minutes on court.

Wozniacki takes on another American qualifier as Christina McHale awaits in the second round.

No 3 seed Elina Svitolina needed to rally for a 7-6(5) 7-6(1) win over home favourite Wang Yafan after facing deficits in both sets.

Coming from a set down to beat last year’s finalist Anastasija Sevastova in the opening round, the Ukrainian faced multiple deficits against the Chinese No 4, but managed to rally to win in 2 tight sets.

In the last match of the day No 9 seed Belinda Bencic was made to work hard after coming back from a set down against Venus Williams, 3-6 6-3 7-5.

Competing at Beijing for the first time since 2016, Venus was looking to earn her first back-to-back wins in the Chinese capital since 2014, but she ran up against an on-fire Bencic, who claimed her first victory since the US Open in the last round against Hsieh Su-Wei in straight sets.

Bencic came into the matchup against the 7-time Grand Slam champion trailing 1-4 in the pair’s head-to-head record, with her only victory coming at the 2018 Australian Open.

The Swiss struck 26 winners and 40 unforced errors in the tightly-contested clash against Venus, who struck 24 and 32 of her own, respectively.

In the end, only 2 points separated Bencic, on 95 won, and Venus, with 93, the Swiss breaking4four times from 9 chances and Venus 3 from 9.

Up next for Bencic is the winner between No 7 seed Petra Kvitova and Kristina Mladenovic in the third round.



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