The last WTA 1000 event of the year takes place in Guadalajara this week, determining the final 5 spots in the WTA Tour finals in which only Iga Swiatek, Ons Jabeur and Jessica Pegula are already guaranteed places at the year-end showpiece starting on 31 October.
I felt like I had a good game plan, but it was tough to execute it with the conditions. I'm happy for the first match that I'm through. It doesn't have to be pretty. Belinda Bencic
Six of the WTA’s Top 10 players are in the field, with an astonishing 17 players still in the frame for spots in the finals in Fort Worth, Texas.
Sitting out this week is Polish World No 1 Iga Swiatek, who capped her record-making season by winning the title in San Diego on Sunday.
The players closest to clinching the remaining places are Coco Gauff and Caroline Garcia, but the likes of World Nos 4 Paula Badosa, 5 Aryna Sabalenka, 6 Pegula, and 7 Maria Sakkari, the top 4 seeds here, also have an outside chance of qualifying.
The top 8 seeds received a bye into the 2nd-round but, with such a strong field, they will face fierce competition from the chasing pack this week.
It all kicked off on Monday, and Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic needed 6 match points to earn her first win over Canadian Leylah Fernandez to advance to the 2nd-round of the Guadalajara Open AKRON, where she will face American Sloane Stephens next.
The 14th seed avenged her Roland Garros loss to Fernandez, 7-5 6-7(1) 6-3, keeping her hopes of qualifying for her second WTA Finals alive as she sits at No 12 on the Race to the WTA Finals Leaderboard.
The Swiss will have to make the semi-finals to have a chance of punching her ticket to Fort Worth.
Coming into Monday night’s opener, Bencic was bidding to earn her first win over Fernandez, having fallen to her in 3 sets at Roland Garros this spring, and at the Billie Jean King Cup in 2020.
“I think every match with Leylah will be, and is, very close,” Bencic said on court. “She’s playing very good and it’s tough to find the rhythm against her. I’m happy I learned something from the last time I lost.”
In a see-saw affair that went down to the wire, both players came back from the brink in their respective sets to take the match to a decider.
Bencic saved 3 set points in the first set, while Fernandez gamely saved 5 match points in the protracted tiebreak to win it 12-10.
As temperatures dipped, and the wind began to swirl, momentum remained elusive in the decider, in which Bencic leaped to a 2-0 lead, only to be pegged back to 2-2.
With both players struggling with their baseline consistency, Bencic backed away from her flat-hitting game plan and began to put more margin behind the ball, prompting more errors from Fernandez.
She broke the Canadian for a 5th and final time for a 4-2 lead, and eventually closed out the win after 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Bencic finished the match with 30 winners to 43 unforced errors, including 13 double-faults, while Fernandez struck 25 winners to 42 unforced errors.
“I felt like I had a good game plan, but it was tough to execute it with the conditions,” Bencic said. “I’m happy for the first match that I’m through. It doesn’t have to be pretty.”
Interestingly, Bencic is practising with Dmitry Tursunov in Guadalajara ahead of a likely new coaching partnership.
Bencic would be Tursunov’s third coaching client of 2022, after previously working with Anett Kontaveit and Emma Raducanu earlier this season.
Raducanu and Tursunov worked together since the start of the hard-court season, 3 months ago, until they recently parted ways.
In the 2nd-round, Bencic now faces Stephens, a champion at the WTA 250 event held here in February, who extended her winning streak in Guadalajara to 6 matches after defeating Czech Linda Fruhvirtova, 6-0 6-2.
Closing out the night session, Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic defeated Mexican wild-card Fernanda Contreras Gomez, 6-2 6-1, and awaits the winner between American No 13 seed Madison Keys and Magda Linette from Poland.
Earlier in the day, two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka downing Russian lucky loser Elina Avanesyan, 6-4 6-2, and former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu cruising past Swiss Jil Teichmann, 6-2 6-4 in 1st-round action.
Azarenka was due to play against Zhang Shuai, but the Chinese withdrew prior to the match due to illness, while Avanesyan had lost to Fruhvirtova in the final round of qualifying, but the 20-year-old got a second chance to play in her first WTA 1000 event on hard courts.
The Belarusian, who reached the Last 16 in New York but lost in her Ostrava opener earlier this month, dropped only 3 first-serve points in the first set, and broke in the 7th game.
Azarenka’s serve deteriorated in a choppy second set, but her 20-year-old opponent could not derail the experienced Azarenka, who set up a 2nd-round meeting with Spanish top seed Paula Badosa in a repeat of the Indian Wells final last year.
Canada’ Andreescu had little difficulty getting past Teichmann, winning the first 3 games of the first set and cruising through the second as the Swiss served up 3 double-faults to help.
Andreescu’s win sets up a first career meeting with Petra Kvitova after the Czech put on a serving masterclass and crushed 6 aces to overpower American Bernarda Pera, 6-3 7-5, coming from 3-1 down in the opening set.
Having never played the WTA 250 event here, nor qualified for the WTA Finals when it was held in the city last year, Andreescu is making her debut in Guadalajara this week.
“I definitely like the atmosphere here,” she said. “I think the altitude helps me in a way, especially when I’m hitting winners.
“I feel like it just drags [the ball] around, which I actually like. I just wanted to come out, stay positive and give everything I have.
“I’m very happy with the consistency. Sometimes, I could’ve went for more, but I chose to be a little bit more safe. I didn’t want to go for too much … there’s a good balance. I think my serve went really well today, my return, and just fighting until the end, as well.”
The biggest upset of the day belonged to 20-year-old Colombian Camila Osorio, who broke 15th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova 9 times en route to a 6-4 7-6(8) victory.
Russia’s Liudmila Samsonova, who won in Cleveland and Tokyo this year but lost her 1st-round match in San Diego last week, beat the tricky Estonian, Kaia Kanepi, 6-1 7-5, and China’s Zhu Lin defeated Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet, 3-6 6-3 6-4.
Samsonova and Kanepi had already faced each other in August in Washington, when the Russian won, while the Estonian took the honours at Wimbledon in 2021.
This time around, Kanepi, who recently broke into the top 30 in the WTA rankings after an 8-year absence, had her service broken 3 times in the opening set, which Samsonova, ranked 22 in the world, wrapped up in 27 minutes.
The second was much more evenly-matched, as the Estonian took a 3-1 lead, although her opponent went on to win the next 3 games.
Things went Samsonova’s way at 6-5, when Kanepi dropped serve again to lose both the set and match after an hour and 22 minutes.
Samsonova served up 7 aces to Kanepi’s 2 and, while her first service success rate at 45 percent was lower than Kanapi’s 58 percent, the Russian won 21 out of 23 of the points concluded off the first serve. Kanepi converted one out of two break points; Samsonova five out of 10.
Samsonva now faces the No 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus in round two.
Belgian Elise Mertens also advanced with a 6-3 6-2 win over American Asia Muhammad, while Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk saw off Russia’s Aliaksandra Sasnovic, 6-1 6-3, and Canadian qualifier Rebecca Marino got past Ann Li from the USA, 6-2 7-6(2).