Mouth-watering tennis was on offer at the China Open on Friday, and the women’s quarter-finals delivered in droves.
I feel like I play very well here. It suits my game. Caroline Wozniacki
It began with a magnificent 2-hour 8-minute tussle between the World No 1 Ashleigh Barty and the 7th-seeded Petra Kvitova in a match that demonstrated the Australian’s fighting qualities at their best.
Barty was made to battle her way past the tall, left-handed, Czech, 4-6 6-4 6-3, to book her spot in the semi-finals for the first time.
“From my opinion, that was one of the highest quality matches I played all year,” Barty said, during her post-match press conference. “Petra always has a way of bringing out the best in me, she really does.”
Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, held a 4-1 record on her opponent, including 2 wins during this year’s Australian swing, but the reigning Roland Garros champion triumphed in their most recent meeting en route to the Miami Open title in March.
This was to prove a gripping encounter in which, in the first set, Kvitova claimed the early advantage, moving up a break at 3-2 and gritting out a service hold to consolidate for 4-2.
Barty’s divine deliveries closed out her next 2 holds, but the Aussie was unable to get any grip on Kvitova’s service games and the Czech rode out the rest of the set, 6-4.
“I think I didn’t do a hell of a lot wrong in the first set,” Barty observed. “Even the game I got broken, I didn’t even really give a couple of cheapies. It was Petra doing Petra things.”
The second proved equally tight, but Barty stayed steely and fended off a trio of break points spread among the first half, as the players moved to 3-3.
As the set progressed, Barty’s groundstrokes pulled her out of danger as she saved 2 more break points to hold for 4-3.
Kvitova used her fiery forehand to hold for 4-4 and put herself within touching distance of the victory, but Barty hung on for 5-4 and the Czech found herself facing break points for the first time in the match.
Kvitova saved one with an error-forcing forehand, but on the second, Barty sent Kvitova scrambling with a beautifully placed defensive lob, drawing an error from the Czech and levelling the match at one set apiece.
The Czech grabbed the early lead in the decider, but Barty struck back immediately, using outstanding court coverage to draw another error and line up a break point in the next game, which she converted by ending a rally with a forehand winner.
Barty took her chance at 4-3 to take a commanding lead when Kvitova went down break point after a backhand miscue and although the Czech fended it off after an amazing rally and served strongly, 2 forehand errors sent the game the Aussie’s way.
Serving for the match at 5-3, Barty saw a 40-0 lead and her first 3 match points slip away, but the World No 1 teed up a 4th opportunity, which she converted after blasting a forehand winner crosscourt, sliding into the last 4 in Beijing.
Barty finished the encounter with 31 winners to just 20 unforced errors, while Kvitova fired 36 winners to 28 unforced errors.
With a clean match by both players, the result was determined by success on break points, and ultimately, Barty won half of her 6 break points, while Kvitova could only convert 2 of her 7.
“From both of us, I think the level was incredible,” said Barty. “Regardless of winning or losing, I think I’d be sitting here with the exact same perspective, kind of the same feeling of the match afterwards.”
In the final four, Barty will face No 8 seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, who took out Elina Svitolina, the 3rd seed, in straight sets.
“They’re both extremely good tennis players who have kind of had a really good back end of the year,” Barty said, looking forward to her semi-final.
“I think both present different challenges. Whichever it is, I look forward to either one trying to test myself, again, against one of the best players in the world coming into a couple of big weeks to finish off the year.”
Both Bertens and Svitolina had hopes of qualifying for the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen and with so much on the line, the encounter proved to be equally tight.
In the end it was the Dutchwoman who clinched the semi-final slot and increased her chances, effectively upsetting the Ukrainian, 7-6(6) 6-2.
“I think this week I played some better tennis again,” Bertens said. “When you start to play better, get the wins, be in the semi-finals, of course also you still need points for Shenzhen, I think then with some pressure and playing better all the time, it’s good for me. It says for myself that I was growing a lot over the last few years.”
Bertens fired 36 winners in the match to Svitolina’s 16, while the Ukrainian was also undone by nearly doubling her winner count with 31 unforced errors.
Overall, Bertens’s power game claimed her over three-quarters of her first-service points, and she also won more than half of Svitolina’s second-service points, allowing her to convert 3 of her 7 break points.
After saving break points in her first 2 service games, Bertens broke for 3-1 after a divine drop-shot set up a beautiful backhand winner down the line, and then consolidated to create a commanding 4-1 advantage.
Svitolina extricated herself from going down 1-5 and held on for 4-2, then pulled back on serve to level at 5-all after Bertens netted a groundstroke to give up the break.
The Ukrainian had the chance to take control of the opener when Bertens missed a backhand volley to give the No 3 seed a break point at 5-5, but the Dutchwoman redeemed that miss by punching a forehand volley to get to deuce, and eventually held on for 6-5, as the players moved inexorably into a pivotal tiebreak.
Bertens was the more solid player off the ground as she built a 4-0 lead in the breaker, but Svitolina came up with clutch serving to rebound to 4-3.
At 5-5, a Bertens backhand forced a Svitolina error, giving the Dutch player set point, but she missed a backhand at the end of a rally in the next point to level the tiebreak at 6-6.
Bertens, though, got a second set point with a winning volley, and that one was clinched after a long backhand by Svitolina.
The second set saw Bertens wrestle herself a 3-1 lead, and used her powerful returns to grab a second break for good measure, as she extended her lead to 4-1.
Svitolina stopped a 5-game winning streak with a hold for 5-2, but the Dutchwoman was undeterred as she converted her second match point in the very next game with a stunning forehand winner down the line.
“I was stepping in where I could, coming to the net, which I didn’t do a lot over the last few weeks,” said Bertens. “I think I stepped up my game today.”
Looking to playing Barty in the semis, Bertens reflected: “It’s tough to play [Barty] because she’s playing so different than all the other girls. Most of the time they’re playing really aggressive.
“Ash is also playing aggressive, but in her own way. A lot of slices, then some more heavy on the forehand, good serve. I think we play a little bit similar. Of course, she’s coming to the net also a lot. It makes it tough.
“But I just have to be patient, just try to play aggressive where I can, try to hang in the points where I have to.”
For the second year in a row, the China Open has rejuvenated Caroline Wozniacki, the No 16 seed’s title defence still going strong with a 6-3 7-6(5) quarter-final defeat of Daria Kasatkina in an hour and 41 minutes.
Last year, the Dane came into Beijing having lost 6 of her previous 9 matches, but found form to carry off her 30th career title without dropping a set.
This year, Wozniacki has compiled a 7-9 win-loss record since reaching the Charleston final in April, which was the last time the former World No 1 won three consecutive matches.
Against Kasatkina, she extended her winning streak in Beijing to 10 matches and 20 sets in a row, coming from a break down twice in both sets against an opponent who had defeated her 3 times in 2018, and striking 21 winners to 19 unforced errors.
“I’ve always had tough matches against her,” noted Wozniacki afterwards. “She’s a good player, very talented, mixes up the pace.
“I just tried to stay focused. I think we both played some great points, some great rallies. I was happy to finish it off in two sets, finish it off in the tiebreaker.
“I feel like I play very well here. It suits my game.”
The Russian’s season has been even leaner than Wozniacki’s, with only a 9-19 win-loss record prior to this week.
Having won 3 straight matches for the first time since lifting the Moscow trophy at the end of last year, the World No 45 displayed some fine defence and variety off the ground, capturing the first break of the match with a stunning pass rocketed off a Wozniacki smash.
The Dane was able to ride the ebbs and flows of a patchy opening set to take the lead.
Twice, Kasatkina moved up a break, but both times, the 2018 Australian Open champion took advantage of her opponent’s rather ineffective serving to peg her back, eventually upping the ante to take the last four games of the set.
Kasatkina began the second hitting with renewed aggression and rattled off 12 of the first 16 points of the set to move up 3-0.
Though a dogged Wozniacki pegged Kasatkina back to 3-3, the Russian kept her focus and regained the advantage for 5-3, but the double faults that afflicted Kasatkina all week scuppered her hopes of serving out the second set.
The 12th game of the match was arguably the finest, with the 29-year-old Wozniacki fending off some irresistible net play from Kasatkina and saving a set point with a backhand winner to end a magnificent rally.
A slew of unforced errors in the ensuing tiebreak from Kasatkina helped Wozniacki move 6-1 up but the Russian came up with another handful of marvellous points to add some drama to the closing stages before the Dane made no mistake on her 5th match point to put away a backhand for the win.
The final quarter of the day pitched Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu against other, the two players who have claimed the last 3 Grand Slam titles between them, in a highly anticipated blockbuster.
In the much-anticipated and riveting first clash between the two most recent US Open champions, No 4 seed Osaka fought back from a set and a break down in both second and third sets to take the honours 5-7 6-3 6-4 over No 5 seed Andreescu in 2 hours and 14 minutes to reach the China Open semi-finals.
The result ends Andreescu’s winning streak, dating back to the 4th round of Miami in March, at 17 but extends Toray Pan Pacific Open champion Osaka’s own to 8 in this year’s Asian swing.
The Japanese No 1, who struck 31 winners to 30 unforced errors and 10 aces, has also dealt out Andreescu’s first defeat at the hands of a Top 10 opponent in 9 matches.