The quarter-finals at the China Open are lining up to be of high quality, with Ash Barty, Petra Kvitova, Elina Svitolina and Kiki Bertens already in place.
It's nice having a match like this, especially after what happened yesterday. I think I was more positive, as well. I think that helped a lot. Bianca Andreescu
Playing late into the early hours of Thursday morning, No 3 seed Elina Svitolina got herself through to her 11th quarter-final of the year after battling past her recent nemesis Sofia Kenin in three close sets, 6-3 6-7(8) 6-3.
The pair were evenly matched and it took 2 hours and 29 minutes to resolve the issue, with the match ending at 1:10 am.
The Ukrainian kept her nose in front despite a mid-match let-down that saw her squander 3 match points in the second set.
Svitolina recovered emphatically, firing 48 winners and 13 aces to take the victory in three sets.
“It was an extremely tough match and the conditions were very tricky, the ball was flying,” Svitolina said later. “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.”
Svitolina needed a few games in the third set to shake off the disappointment of letting those 3 errand match points slip by, but she kept her cool and struck first to claim a 4-2 lead, a lone break that proved decisive.
Through to her third career Beijing quarter-final, the victory keeps Svitolina in the hunt for her first appearance in a WTA final in 2019.
Up next for Svitolina is No 8 seed Kiki Bertens who took down Polona Hercog in similar three-set fashion, 7-6(6) 2-6 6-3, earlier in the day to advance.
“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 quarter-finals.”
Defending champion Caroline Wozniacki opened the day’s play, soaring into her 5th with a 7-5 6-4 victory over Katerina Siniakova from the Czech Republic.
The 16th-seeded Dane was tested, trailing by a break twice in the opener, but she found her form late in the set to win it.
She also surrendered an early lead in the second, but recovered well enough to reach the last 8 in Beijing.
“I’m happy to have played well so far in the tournament. I’ve been feeling pretty good. That’s always a plus. We’ll just see,” Wozniacki said.
“Hopefully it’s not the end of the tournament for me. Hopefully I have a couple more matches in me. I’m just going to go and see.”
Siniakova, who dropped just 7 games across her first 2 matches against Chinese wildcard Wang Xiyu and former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, showed off some of the same scintillating form early on against the former World No 1.
The World No 47 was the first to break serve in the encounter to lead 2-1, and although she lost her own serve to love in the ensuing game, she bounced back into the lead with a second break in the 7th.
The lengthy opening set lasted three-quarters of an hour but, as it wore on, the 23-year-old grew more erratic off the ground, particularly on the forehand side, and the Czech surrendered 4 of the last 5 games to fall behind by a set.
Wozniacki’s run of games grew to 8 of 10 as she won 4 of the first 5 in the second set as well to build up her lead to 4-1.
Siniakova saved a break point, which would have seen her trail 5-1, and played some of her best tennis with her back against the wall to get the set back on serve.
She denied Wozniacki 3 match points on serve in the 9th game, breaking for a 5th time to stay alive, but the tenacious Dane sealed her 9th straight victory in Beijing with a 7th overall break in an hour and 37 minutes.
“I was trying to stay aggressive,” said Wozniacki. “I was trying to move the ball around a lot.
“I think I was successful most of the time, but there was a couple of games where she played good or I played a little sloppy, but all in all, I think I did that pretty well.
“Then I tried to just stay aggressive on her forehand side, as well.
“I think every match is always different. I just go in and try to do my best. I had a game plan in mind. I just tried to execute that.”
She will meet Daria Kasatkina in the quarters, winner of an all-Russian affair against compatriot Ekaterina Alexandrova.
It was an impressive display by Kasatkina in dispatching the Russian No 1, 6-4 6-3, on Lotus Court.
Alexandrova made the quicker start but was ultimately foxed by Kasatkina’s shrewd changes of pace, which allowed her to come from behind to win the opening set and maintain her momentum all the way through the match.
Although she only hit 5 winners in total, Kasatkina frustrated her opponent into 50 unforced errors, and was rewarded with a return to the quarters.
Neither player was comfortable on serve at any point, with 3 breaks in the opening 3 games setting the tone.
Although Alexandrova held first to establish a 4-1 lead, the sheer tenacity of Kasatkina, plus a well-timed chat with coach Carlos Martinez, saw the 22-year-old work her way back into the set.
“The Russian wall came back in China!” Kasatkina said of her defensive work.
“She was better at the beginning, but together with Carlos, I managed to get my game back and start to play better.
“I felt so good on the baseline. I felt that whatever she did, I was there. I got every ball back.
“I felt consistent in every rally and I knew she was under pressure and that she felt she had to do something special to hit a winner.”
Kasatkina offered little rhythm, playing high, floated topspin shots that induced the 24-year-old into a high unforced error count.
She won 5 games in succession to pull the first set out of the bag, and established a quick lead in the second.
Alexandrova, the World No 33, felt the match slipping away and changed her tactics, charging the net more in an attempt to force Kasatkina into hitting harder, but she rarely looked comfortable in the forecourt and, as a double fault slipped long, she found herself 5-1 down.
Kasatkina saw her next service game fade away courtesy in part due to a deft drop-shot from Alexandrova, but she held next time out to seal the win.
For the first time in 2019, Kasatkina has won 3 successive matches and is feeling upbeat about her tennis once more.
“The past season’s been a disaster,” she admitted. “I worked a lot – on every aspect of myself – and this is proof that if you work with the right direction, it’ll come sooner or later.
“You never know which week will change your game… I’m just upset it’s coming back to me at the end of the season. It would have been even better to have had a few more tournaments.”
Also in the quarter-finals is Naomi Osaka, who delivered an emphatic performance against the in-form American Alison Riske, 6-4 6-0, in an hour and 13 minutes and extended her Asian swing winning streak to 7 matches.
The Japanese 4th seed won the last 10 games against the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open runner-up, romping through the second set in under half an hour.
Riske, looking for her third win against a Top 10 player in the past 2 weeks, started the quicker of the two and was the first to break, dropping just 4 points in her first 3 service games to take a 4-2 lead.
Osaka gathered herself together to find her form, drawing level at 4-4 with her first break of the match, and then adding a second to seal the opening set.
The two-time Grand Slam champion’s superior power and exceptional defending skills eventually overwhelmed the American’s challenge.
“Today I was kind of happy because the first set was really tight. I was thinking that it’s been a while since I’ve kind of had to be really serious,” Osaka said after the match.
“It seemed like she was the type that would use my pace, especially on the forehand. I just tried not to give her too much.”
A woman of few words, Osaka added that she would not be watching her next opponent’s match because she feels she tends to ‘over-analyse things’.
The World No 4 has endured stuttering form after winning the Australian Open at the start of the year, but has yet to drop a set after 3 matches in China and 4 in Japan.
“I’m relaxed, but I’m a little bit angry, it’s an angry relaxed,” said Osaka, asked what was behind her recent success. “I know after Australia I was like, ‘I’m going to have fun’. It was not fun, I did not have fun.”
The Japanese said she took a week off after her last 16 defeat at the US Open, where teenager Bianca Andreescu, potentially her next opponent, went on to triumph over Serena Williams in the final.
“I was sorting out my thoughts,” said Osaka, adding that she has ‘self-diagnosed ADHD’: “Because if I tell myself to relax, I play three-set matches.
“Out here, if you see, I’m kind of ‘angry’ right now, I can get through straight-set wins.”
As it happened Andreescu is to be her next opponent, winner over American qualifier Jennifer Brady, 6-1 6-3.
“I was watching her play Toronto when I was there. It’s pretty obvious, but she seems to be — well, she is an amazing player,” observed Osaka of Andreescu. “I feel like she’s doing better than I was last year, so it’s all cool. I have to learn from her, too.
“I noticed that she seems to be very focused. She plays a lot of three sets. I think someone that plays a lot of three sets, it shows that they don’t really care about the — like, they can just keep building off.
“Obviously, she won a Grand Slam. That’s one of her very good traits.”
The reigning US Open champion, who has forgotten what it feels like to lose, notched up her 16th consecutive win of completed matches since 1 March, and faces Osaka for the first time.
The 19-year Canadian is the hottest player on tour, scoring 8-0 wins against players ranked in the top-10.
Against Brady in Beijing, she was clinical, breaking the American 3 times in the first set, including the first game of the match, and taking the opener in just 33 minutes.
It was much of the same in the second, as Andreescu mixed her powerful forehand with soft, deft drop shots to propel her to victory.
“I think it was a solid match overall from my part,” the Canadian said after the match. “My goal was to take control right from the start and make sure I’m consistent with my serve. Last couple matches, I wasn’t.
“I’m really happy with how my serve held up today, and also my return, especially in the first set.
“It’s nice having a match like this, especially after what happened yesterday. I think I was more positive, as well. I think that helped a lot.”
What Andreescu has done this season is nothing short of remarkable, and it is continuing in Beijing.
The greater the pressure, the better Andreescu plays, and she thrives on the big stage, particularly when the chips are down.
She had 22 days off between her US Open victory and the China Open, but has quickly shaken off any residue rust in China, where she is setting now her sights on the World No 4, who won the US Open in 2018 and followed it by taking the Australian title in January.
Osaka is making history herself, the first Grand Slam win and World No 1 ranking by a Japanese singles player.
Andreescu burst on the scene by reaching the final in Auckland and winning the BNP Paribas Open title in Indian Wells.
While the shoulder injury threatened to halt her progress, she picked up right where she left off in Toronto, becoming the first Canadian in the Open Era to lift the Rogers Cup trophy, and then she capped it off with a dream fortnight at the US Open.
She has already qualified for her first Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen appearance.
Always a tricky opponent, Brady has claimed several big-name scalps in 2019, and she did it again in Beijing against fellow American Madison Keys, the No 11 seed, in the previous round.
Andreescu had all of the answers on this day, striking 17 winners and 5 aces, winning 79% of points behind her strong first serve.
As a result, she wasn’t broken at all during the match, saving all 4 break points she faced and keeping Brady’s game contained to just 9 winners, but the American was undone by 21 unforced errors.
Andreescu and Osaka have won the last 3 majors between them and their quarter-final clash promises to be a blockbuster.
“I’m feeling more excited than usual. I wanted to play her ever since she did so well at the US Open and Australian Open,” Andreescu said. “I’m really happy that I get to play her tomorrow because I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
“I know she’s an aggressive player.
“She has similar traits to Serena, as well. Big serve, big groundstrokes. She moves pretty well, too.
“If I just go out there and play my game, I think that’s worked a lot this year against many of the players. The goal is just to play my game and stay positive.”
The fans can’t wait.