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Shenzhen – Big names crash out in China

There were plenty of shocks at China’s Shenzhen Open on Tuesday, with the premature departure from the the singles by both top seeds.

She’s playing so fast so I had to be ready from the first point, Kristyna Pliskova

There were plenty of shocks at China’s Shenzhen Open on Tuesday, with the premature departure from the the singles by both top seeds.

Switzerland’s top seeded Belinda Bencic and Belarusian defending champion Aryna Sabalenka were both knocked out on a day of upsets, leaving Elise Mertens, the No 3 seed, as the favourite for the title.

Russia’s Anna Blinkova claimed the first top-10 win of her career when she came from behind to beat Bencic, 3-6 6-3 6-3, in the first round; while Sabalenka was beaten 6-4 6-4 by the Czech Republic’s Kristyna Pliskova in the last-16.

Blinkova started poorly against World No 8 Bencic and was broken 3 times in the opening set.

Thereafter, she never dropped her serve, firing 12 aces and breaking Bencic 5 times to advance to the second round.

“It was a great performance from me today,” Blinkova said. “I prepared very carefully and I’m happy that I played good tennis. I was thinking to just fight for every point.”

Though she proved unable to seal a first-round upset of Naomi Osaka at the US Open last summer, falling to the 2018 champion in three sets, Blinkova rallied from a set down to ultimately see off the Swiss in a shade under two hours.

After losing 5 of the first 6 games, the 21-year-old Russian slowly worked her way into her first-ever meeting against Bencic, never losing serve after losing the opener.

“I didn’t feel great in the beginning of the match, I didn’t feel the ball and my shots. I didn’t play bad, but I managed to increase the level of my game slowly, step by step.

“I said to myself that I needed to put more balls in the court, because I was giving her too many mistakes. I tried to play big margins, but aggressive.”

Conversely, Blinkova ramped up the pressure on return in the second and third sets, where she not only withstood 7 of Bencic’s 8 aces, but broke serve in the 6th game of the second set to help send the match to a decider, and started and ended the final set with 2 more service breaks.

The Russian capped her 2019 season with runs to the semi-finals of the Guangzhou Open and the BGL BNP Paribas Luxembourg Open, and now looks to reach her first quarter-final to start 2020 when she faces Kazakh Zarina Diyas in the second round.

Diyas, already a winner at the ITF W25 event in Hong Kong last week, stretched her winning streak to start the year to 6 matches, all without the loss of a set, with a 6-3 6-4 win over local wildcard Duan Yingying.

“In preseason, I worked on my fitness a lot. I did a lot of conditioning. In practice, I improved my technique a little bit and my shots. I’ve been working really hard, and I’m very satisfied with my preseason,” Diyas said.

“My goals are to improve my game with every match, learn new things, and apply them in every one of my next matches.”

Second seed Sabalenka had 11 break points in her match, including 9 in the second set, but she could not convert a single one as a dogged Pliskova served well under the intense pressure.

The left-handed Pliskova twin served notice in her 89-minute second round victory, as she not only ended Sabalenka’s bid to defend her title from a year ago, but handed the Belarusian just her second defeat in her last 11 matches on Chinese soil.

“She’s playing so fast so I had to be ready from the first point,” Pliskova said. “My serve was there, which is always important, so I’m happy that I won.

“I reached the quarter-finals here two years ago, so I’m happy to be back there and looking to see if I can do more.”

Sabalenka, the World No 11, won the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open and the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai to end her 2019 singles campaign, and surrendered just 3 games in defeating Russian Margarita Gasparyan in the first round.

Pliskova, however, was pitch-perfect behind her southpaw serve in the match, as she hammered 15 aces, won 87 percent of the points behind her first delivery, and saved 11 break points along the way to victory in the first meeting between the two players.

Nine of the 11 break point chances that Pliskova faced came in the second set after she already built herself a comfortable advantage at a set and a break.

After breaking Sabalenka’s serve to love to lead 6-4 3-2, the Czech saved 4 break points in a key 6th game, and erased 5 more in the 8th game en route to recording the upset victory.

It was not a good day for the Chinese either, with Wang Xiyu falling 6-4 6-3 to Mertens in the last-16 while 8th seed Zhang Shuai was beaten 7-6(10) 6-3 by Kateryna Bondarenko.



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