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Shenzhen | Barty takes out Kvitova, Andreescu pulls out

Normal service was resumed by Ash Barty, the World No 1, clinched pole position in the Red Group on Thursday, defeating Petra Kvitova in straight-sets at the Shiseido WTA Finals in Shenzhen, south China, and casting aside the oddly lacklustre performance she produced against Kiki Bertens in her previous match.

I knew I had to play aggressively and it was important when I was serving to keep my nose in front Ashleigh Barty

This came as news broke that US Open champion Bianca Andreescu had withdrawn from the event, citing the knee injury sustained in her defeat by Karolina Pliskova as the reason for pulling out of the season-ending championships.

The Canadian suffered the injury 3 games into her meeting with Pliskova, and although she continued with a heavily strapped knee until the end of the first set, the 19-year-old was eventually forced to retire.

“I had a scan Thursday to check my knee after last night’s match, and unfortunately the results show that I need to withdraw,” Andreescu said.

“It was amazing to play here in Shenzhen at the end of this incredible season. I’m very disappointed to not be able to finish the year on my terms, but I am hopeful I will have more chances to play here in the future.”

During a breakout season, which she started ranked 178th, Andreescu compiled a remarkable 48-7 record and won her first Grand Slam after defeating Serena Williams in the final at Flushing Meadows.

“I’m definitely going to take time off, recoup and then start my preseason,” she said.

“I’ll become even stronger for 2020.”

Andreescu will be replaced in the draw by the second alternate, 20-year old Sofia Kenin from the United States, who will take on defending champion Elina Svitolina in the final round of matches in the Purple Group on Friday.

Kenin knows that she cannot progress to the semi-finals, but winning her only match would earn her $305,000 to go with her fee of $165,000 just for being here on standby.

Svitolina has already secured her place in Saturday’s semi-finals, while Simona Halep and Pliskova will meet on Friday, both looking for a win that will take them into the last four.

Andreescu is the second player to pull out of the competition after Japan’s Naomi Osaka withdrew after the first round of group matches with a shoulder injury.

Barty, the French Open champion, stormed into the semi-finals with a crushing 6-4 6-2 win in one hour and 28 minutes at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre, knocking out the winless Czech from the round-robin tournament.

The Aussie, who had already sealed the year-end No 1 ranking, rebounded after her surprising three-set loss to late replacement Bertens on Tuesday.

“I felt like I executed really well,” she said taking out Kvitova. “I knew I had to play aggressively and it was important when I was serving to keep my nose in front.

“It’s really exciting to have another chance to play again here on this beautiful court.”

Kvitova had a scare in the 3rd game of the first set, but saved 2 breaks points to hold her serve, which was being targeted by an aggressive Barty.

The Australian’s consistency wore down an error-strewn Kvitova, and she grabbed a decisive break in the 5th game.

Barty had break points against her serve in the 6th and 8th games but withstood Kvitova’s attempts to get back into the first set.

“I’m particularly happy with the way I was able to return tonight,” Barty said.

“I think she was trying to take a little bit more of a risk. That kind of worked in my favour a bit.”

Kvitova, the oldest player in the draw at 29, changed tactics early in the second set and attacked the net, but Barty had the answers to reach the semi-finals on her WTA Finals singles debut.

For Kvitova, the 2011 WTA Finals champion, the loss marks a second straight winless campaign in her 7th appearance at the lucrative year-ender.

“I just couldn’t find rhythm,” she said. “When it came to the deciding points, she always played better than me.”

Kvitova, who had lost in three sets in both her previous matches, admitted that she felt tired after a long season.

“Mentally and physically it was pretty tiring,” she said as she looked back over her year. “Playing in a Grand Slam final again [at the Australian Open] was definitely the highlight.

“Qualifying here was great too, so I shouldn’t be that disappointed, but right now it’s not really easy to take it.”

Over the course of the tight first set, Barty’s cool play in big moments, particularly on serve, came to the fore repeatedly in order for her to edge the opening act.

The Australian was the first to pressure her opponent’s serve, holding 2 break points in the 3rd game, and although she was unable to take them that time, she didn’t let up, with 2 excellent passes sealing the breakthrough 2 games later.

That was a tactic that also had the effect of halting Kvitova’s initial strategy of rushing the net at every opportunity.

Having dropped serve, Kvitova held 4 break points over the course of 8 deuces in Barty’s next 2 service games, benefiting from the good fortune of 2 dead net cords in the first, but she was unable to take any of her chances.

Any opening would be slammed shut either by Barty coming up with a clutch serve, or by Kvitova herself committing one of her 20 unforced errors in the set.

The Roland Garros champion maintained her lead to close out the set to 15.

The second, again, opened with Kvitova shooting herself in the foot, netting two drop-shots at 30-0 and coughing up her 4th double fault to open the door for Barty.

The World No 1 needed little encouragement to rise to the occasion with some magic of her own, closing out the break with a beautifully lofted lob and some elegant forecourt play, setting the tone for a one-sided set.

Kvitova, again, had opportunities on the Barty serve, stretching her opponent to 2 deuces in game 2 and holding a 0-30 lead in the 4th but the two-time Wimbledon champion was unable to find her best tennis when it came to closing out games.

Instead, she conceded her serve for a second time, again from game point up, thanks to another assortment of double faults and unforced errors, before having to watch Barty extricate herself from danger to build a 4-0 lead with back-to-back aces.

This lead would prove unassailable, maintaining a first serve percentage of 62% compared to her opponent’s 50%, Barty did not face a break point during the second set, and although Kvitova, a former World No 2, was able to blitz 2 spectacular forehands to save 2 match points, it was too little, too late, her 21 winners for the day outweighing by 31 unforced errors.

Barty’s positive ratio of 23 winners to 18 unforced errors made all the difference, and a service winner on the Aussie’s 3rd match point emphatically sealed her victory and a spot in the semis.

“It was the first time I had played Petra indoors,” Barty said afterwards. “I had to adjust and take some time to get used to her ball off the court and everything like that.

“I was particularly happy with the way I was able to return tonight. I think Petra changed her serving spots to her usual kind of serving spots.

“I think she was trying to take a little bit more of a risk. That kind of worked in my favour a bit.”

She added: “Playing against Petra is probably one of my favourite things to do, if I’m being honest. Win or lose, it’s going to be a great match.

“It’s going to be played in the right spirit. I just enjoy the challenge of playing against Petra. She really does bring out the best in me.”

This has been Barty’s year, as she ends it not only as the top-ranked player in women’s tennis but also the tour’s richest performer in 2019 after sailing through the $10m prize money barrier for the season this week.

Barty’s 1-from-2 record so far at the lucrative WTA Finals has taken her on-court earnings for the year to an eye-watering $10.93m.

The unprecedented windfall for the Australian in a single season has more than doubled her entire career earnings, and now rises again following her latest win, guaranteed at least $1.45m for the week as she makes the last four in Shenzhen.

She could land a $5.98m pot of gold with victory in Sunday’s final.



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