Singapore | Wozniacki wins through to final
Caroline Wozniacki proved yet again what an extraordinary competitor she is on a tennis court by beating Czech Karolina Pliskova 7-6(9) 6-3 on Saturday evening in Singapore.
The win earned the Dane a place in the final of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
It took nerves of steel in a see-saw match against the year’s best server on the WTA Tour, but Wozniacki was up to the task and strung enough together to pull off the victory at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
The world No 6 is making a return to the final of the prestigious season-ending championships since she finished runner-up in 2010.
It was kind of a roller-coaster and I am just happy that I got the first set under my beltCaroline Wozniacki
The first set was a tense and long-drawn out clash of differing styles and wills, in which Wozniacki stood her ground in the face of some incredible early pressure before eventually pulling away.
She completed the win in 4 minutes under 2 hours, testimony to the Dane’s resilience, consistency and greater variation on the key points.
The 27-year-old sped to 6-1 lead in the tiebreak but squandered her five set points and then had to save set points against herself before she succeeded in claiming the opening set at the sixth time of asking and by the narrowest of margins.
The second proved to be a more straightforward affair, with Wozniacki posting a clean set with no unforced errors.
Pliskova, on the other hand, despite making a concerted effort to come into the net often, had 13 break-point opportunities over the course of the match, but only converted four of them.
The Dane was full of confidence and attempted to break free with an early break in the second to move 3-1 ahead but the tall Czech refused to buckle and stormed back by stepping in to take her shots early to get the contest back on serve.
Wozniacki changed tactics again, opting to push the ball into the corners to force Pliskova out of position and into some errors, and then broke once more for a 5-3 lead.
This time there would be no way back for Pliskova as Wozniacki sent a backhand crosscourt winner past her stranded opponent to storm into the final.
Pliskova’s loss put her out of contention to be the year-end World No 1, allowing Romania’s Simona Halep, who failed to reach the semi-finals, to close out the year as the top-ranked player.
“I was feeling kind of good about myself [in the tiebreak], but she started hitting some winners, and it was a roller coaster,” said Wozniacki.
The match was the their sixth meeting this year, with the overall head-to-head now 6-3 in Wozniacki’s favour, and 3-3 for 2017.
“We have had a lot of close matches this year and I was hoping today was my turn,” the Dane reflected.
“[She] is such an aggressive player, she serves big so you need to be aggressive yourself. It feels great to be in the final. I’ve been playing some great tennis this year.”
Both players had raced out of the blocks in their previous three matches in Singapore but, perhaps mindful of what was at stake, they made a cagey start to their semi-final, unable to stamp any sort of authority on proceedings.
Wozniacki, the first player to serve out a 6-0 to all her three opponents in the group stage, completed the round robin stage having surrendered the third fewest games in group play with 17, six more than Justine Henin who went on to win the title in 2007.
Pliskova was the aggressor and garnered more success when she attacked, while Wozniacki was content to use her supreme court coverage and solid defence to stay in touch.
The first five games went with serve until the Czech edged ahead by instigating a run of four straight breaks of serve.
Wozniacki staved off three set points in the 10th game to stay alive in the set and eventually forced the tiebreak.
“It was a little bit crazy, managing to come back from those set points and then not feeling so good about myself after being 6-1 up in the tiebreak.
“It was kind of a roller-coaster and I am just happy that I got the first set under my belt,” added Wozniacki, who on Sunday goes on to meet the winner of the second semi-final between Venus Williams and Caroline Garcia to be played on Saturday evening.
Wozniacki clinched a big payday by reaching the final, taking her minimum earnings from the WTA Finals to at least $1.1m.
Even a loss in Sunday’s match will earn her a $590,000 runner-up prize, while a $1,750,000 champion’s prize would take the Dane’s tournament earnings beyond $2m.
Halep stays World No 1
Simona Halep becomes the 13th different woman to end a year as World No 1, but has achieved the feat despite only winning one title in the season.
The Romanian’s victory in the Madrid Open was her only title of 2017, but her impressive consistency saw her top the rankings with a last-four victory over Jelena Ostapenko in the China Open at the start of October.
Critics will point to Halep’s lack of a Grand Slam title in her career, but the Romanian’s career trajectory is on the up, with the French Open her likeliest option for a major title after twice reaching the final – in 2014 and 2017.
Halep’s first chance of ending that Grand Slam drought will come on Monday 15 January when the Australian Open gets underway in Melbourne. Defending champion Serena Williams is expected to return after giving birth to her first child in September.
Martina Hingis ended her career on a losing note when the retiring Swiss and her partner Chan Yung-jan of Taiwan were beaten 6-4 7-6(5) by Timea Babos and Andrea Hlavackova in a WTA Finals doubles semi-final on Saturday.
“I think it’s been an amazing journey and amazing career that I can be proud of,” said 37-year-old Hingis, who announced Thursday she was retiring at the end of the tournament.
“It’s not really goodbye. I hope I’ll still be part of the game.”
It is the third and final time Hingis retires, bringing an end to an illustrious career that has garnered 25 grand slam wins – five in singles and 20 in doubles.
The top seeds had hoped to send Hingis off with a fourth WTA Finals doubles crown after two triumphs with Anna Kournikova and one with Sania Mirza, but Hungary’s Babos and Czech Hlavackova proved too strong at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
The Hungarian-Czech duo edged a high-quality opening set but were given an almighty scare when Babos tumbled to the ground at 5-5 in the second set while trailing 30-0, twisting her left ankle and requiring a lengthy medical break for treatment.
Both pairs remained strong on serve to send the contest into a tiebreak and the top seeds were beaten when Hingis sent a backhand long on the first match point to end both her and Chan’s interest in the competition and her own career.
“For me to play on a court like this and against an opponent like this makes me emotional… for me and her,” Babos said in a court side interview.
“It’s an incredible moment for her after all she has achieved and to play against her is just amazing to be part of her history. Hopefully, just once in my life, I can achieve the kind of things she did.”
Despite the defeat, Hingis will go out on at least one high after the WTA confirmed on Friday that the Swiss had secured the year-end number one ranking in women’s doubles alongside Chan after the pair won nine titles in 2017, including the U.S. Open.