In the last match of the round robin phase of the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen on Friday, No 2 seed Czech Karolína Plíšková beat reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep of Romania, completing the singles semi-final line-up for the knockout stage of the competition over the weekend.
I think overall was a good match. I think a little bit up and down from both of us. But that's how it is sometimes Karolina Pliskova
The World No 2 claimed a 6-0 2-6 6-4 win at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center, propelling herself into the last 4 of the event for the third consecutive year.
Victory secures her a second-place finish in the Purple Group and sets up an intriguing battle against World No 1 Ash Barty of Australia on Saturday for a place in the final.
“I think overall was a good match,” said Pliskova, during her post-match press conference. “I think a little bit up and down from both of us. But that’s how it is sometimes.”
Halep, the World No 5, came into the match with a 7-3 head-to-head lead over Plíšková, who earned a straight-sets win in their previous meeting in March.
The duo had a nearly equal amount of unforced errors, but Plíšková blasted 28 winners to Halep’s 15 as she powered through after an hour and 43 minutes of action.
The third set saw Halep’s coach Darren Cahill walk onto the court after Plíšková won her third consecutive game for 3-2 and brand the Romanian’s attitude a ‘disgrace’.
Cahill’s tough love couldn’t save her, though, and he was savaged on social media for his remarks.
The controversial court side rev-up overshadowed the on-court action.
Minutes after telling Halep he was proud of her for squaring the match up after being bagelled in the first set, Cahill returned to condemn the 5th seed for surrendering a 2-0 lead in the decider.
“Simo? Simo, look at me. The last 3 games you’ve been a disgrace on the court,” the Australian said.
“Come on, you can’t win the match doing what you’ve been doing the last 3 games. You’ve got to reel it in.
“Get your focus back between the lines. For no reason, you’ve lost it here … So you have a chance to define yourself now in this set.
“Forget the result, how are you going to finish this match? It’s up to you.
“You can finish with full energy and full focus or you can continue doing what you’ve been doing the last 3 games and you have no chance to win.
“So at least give yourself a chance by pulling it back in. This is on you. Get your attitude back on track and you will win this match. I have full belief.
“You have a choice here, how to define yourself as an athlete and a competitor.”
Cahill walked out on Halep after a similar episode in Miami two years ago before reuniting and guiding the temperamental former World No 1 to her maiden Grand Slam triumph at the 2018 French Open.
He has only recently reunited with the Romanian after a year off.
Asked about Cahill’s latest blast, Halep said: “Yeah, it was a little bit of the impact for me but I’m pretty sure that I deserve [it] because I was not calm. I changed something in my attitude.
“Everyone knows that I’m working on that. I was a little bit pissed on myself that I did that. I’m sure that I made him pissed also.
Halep also said she remained excited to have Cahill back in her corner for 2020.
“I feel more confident for what’s coming up. I am motivated,” she said.
“I’m fresh mentally, even if it ended like this at this tournament. I don’t feel exhausted like last year. It’s a good sign.
“But I need a holiday. I need a holiday to just forget about everything, then I’ll be ready for the off-season.”
Former World No 1 Plíšková has now propelled herself into the semi-finals of the WTA Finals for the third consecutive year, as the Czech seeks her first trip to the final of the season-ending crown-jewel event.
“Semi-final is, of course, great,” Plíšková stated. “Now third time, so there’s always the chance to go little bit more. That’s my goal for now.”
Halep came into the contest with a 7-3 head-to-head lead overall on Plíšková, but the Czech had earned a straight-set win in their only prior meeting this year in Miami and has now made it two wins in a row over the Romanian with her latest topsy-turvy victory.
The duo had a nearly equal amount of unforced errors in their encounter, but Plíšková blasted 28 winners to Halep’s 15 as she powered to triumph after an hour and 43 minutes of action.
“I’m fighting, doing my best,” said Plíšková. “Of course, maybe my game is not 100 percent working here as I would love to. I play one more ball always. It’s still working.”
With her victory giving her a second-place finish in the Purple Group, Plíšková sets up an intriguing semi-final battle between the first and second ranked players in the world, as she will face World No 1 Ashleigh Barty of Australia on Saturday for a place in the championship match.
“Of course, she’s World No.1, it’s going to be extremely difficult,” Plíšková admitted. “She’s also great on this surface. It suits her well.
“We did practice last week. It’s not impossible. Of course, my goal now is to go little bit more than last two years.”
After punching a volley to hold serve in the opening game, Pliskova began a first-set barrage.
The Czech used resplendent returning to pull through a tight game and break for 2-0, setting the tone for the remainder of the set and stellar serving garnered Plíšková easy holds en route to a commanding 5-0 lead.
She was also clicking on her forehand side early in the match, but was also helped by Halep’s mounting miscue count as the set progressed.
The Romanian ended the first set with 10 unforced errors to just 3 winners.
Plíšková, though, was unstoppable in the opening frame, closing it out after just 20 minutes by breaking Halep for the third time with a backhand winner, her 11th winner of the match, compared to a scant 3 unforced errors.
“I think I was playing great the first set,” Pliskova admitted. “I think kind of she was playing the way I wanted, to have the balls exactly where she played. I just felt great.
“I was really going for my shots. Her serve was not really effective. I was really pushing her from the second serve. I didn’t really miss much, that’s true.”
The second set, however, was a markedly different story, as Halep worked her way into the match.
Plíšková faltered for the first time, quickly dropping serve in the opening game of the set, double-faulting on break point.
The Czech was able to pull back on serve shortly thereafter, breaking to love for 2-2, but Halep reclaimed her break advantage, firing a winning volley to lead 3-2.
Halep continued her roll, reaching 5-2 by earning a second break of the vaunted Plíšková service by ending consecutive points with down-the-line backhand winners.
At this juncture, the Romanian was scampering around the court, moving into the forecourt to finish points as she started to outmanoeuvre the Czech.
Plíšková had 3 chances to break back in the final game of the second set, but Halep stayed steely.
The Romanian fended each of them off, eventually earning her second of 2 set points in the game with another backhand winner down the line, and blasted an ace to convert that chance.
Halep’s winner count rose to 9 in the second set, one more than powerful Plíšková.
“I think she did good job the second set,” Pliskova admitted. “She just changed little bit the pace, played little bit more clever, was waiting more for mistakes, which of course to play two sets like this is really tough, especially on this surface where every point you have to really play.”
Halep kept her momentum going as the decider kicked off, breaking Plíšková in the first game with a stirring backhand return winner down the line that fell right into the corner.
A hold for 2-0 gave Halep a 6th straight game and a slim advantage in the final set.
Plíšková stormed back, however, recovering her aggressive action with outstanding overheads and fiery forehands, earning a love break to level the set at 2-2.
The Czech powered through a tense, close game to hold on for 3-2, as a forehand winner down the line sealed a third straight game for the World No 2.
Halep then dropped serve at love again, as the Czech began to pull away, building a 5-2 lead.
Serving for the match at 5-3, though, Pliskova had ill-timed errors, and Halep took advantage of those to get back on serve and give herself a lifeline.
The Romanian forced errors to take a 30-0 lead in the 5-4 game, but beautiful backhands from Plíšková pulled her to 30-30.
Suddenly, a long backhand error from Halep gave the Czech match point, and fortune favoured the bold as Plíšková fired a forehand which clipped the net-cord and fell on Halep’s side of the court, giving the No 2 seed a hard-fought victory.
“I think I did good job overall through whole the match just going for it,” Pliskova said, when asked about the very last point. “I think this [point] was the reward.
“The game was almost lost, I was 0-30, I just went for couple shots. I think I just got it like a present from somebody.
“Of course, it was big relief after this point because I felt was going to end up in the net.
“I was kind of happy, of course. Felt sorry for her because the match was so close. This kind of point at the last point is not the best.
“It’s the last push,” added Plíšková, as she looked towards the end of the season. “That’s why maybe I’m doing so well. If there is maybe 2 or 3 more weeks after, maybe I’m not doing so well. Right now I’m giving everything I have.
“I recover every time quite well after tough matches, tough tournaments, tough weeks,.
“I’ve been playing a lot of seasons quite till the end now in a row. It’s not always easy. Of course, I feel tired. But I do what I love.”
Plíšková’s rollercoaster victory earned her second spot in the Purple Group with a 2-1 win-loss record for the week, with defending champion Elina Svitolina earlier marching into the semi-finals unbeaten after downing Sofia Kenin, 7-5 7-6(10).
Kenin replaced injured Canadian Bianca Andreescu yesterday and was not able to progress to the semi-finals regardless of her result today.
Svitolina will face Belinda Bencic in Saturday’s first semi, before Barty bids to become the first Australian to reach the championship match since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1978.