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Wuhan | Halep retires in third round

Wuhan | Halep retires in third round

The Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open is an important leg of the Asian swing that culminates in the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai and the year-end Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, all in China.

It's lower back. I think it's more muscle, but I don't know yet because I haven't checked it properly Simona Halep

That the WTA has placed its future hopes in the development of women’s tennis in China is clear, having opened offices in both Beijing and Hong Kong.

With 7 of the top 10 players in the world competing in the 64 draw, the No 1 ranking is also on the line with significant implications for the Porsche Race to Shenzhen, so all eyes are on the action in this final Premier 5 event of the season.

Going into the tournament, World No1 Ashleigh Barty, Karolina Pliskova (2), Elina Svitolina (3), Simona Halep (4), Petra Kvitova (5), Kiki Bertens (6), Belinda Bencic (7), and Wang Qiang (8) were all predicted to come through to the Round of 16 and all but Bencic made it, the Swiss falling to qualifier Veronika Kudermetova from Russia, 2-6 6-3 6-4.

Wimbledon champion Halep, however, was left disappointed on Wednesday after suffering a fresh injury setback that forced her to retire with a lower back problem against Elena Rybakina, a wild card from Kazakhstan.

Halep said the problem that caused her to quit her third-round match felt different to the herniated disc she had suffered at the China Open in Beijing a year ago, which brought an early end to the Romanian’s 2018 season.

“It’s lower back. I think it’s more muscle, but I don’t know yet because I haven’t checked it properly,” said two-time Grand Slam champion Halep.

The Romanian led Rybakina by a break and looked on her way to win the first set before her Kazakh opponent drew level.

During the changeover after the 9th game Halep took a medical timeout for treatment to her back, but soon after the former World No 1 retired while serving at 4-5, 30-30.

“At 4-4, 0-30 with the backhand, I had a sharp pain,” Halep revealed.

“I don’t know yet, but it looks a little bit different [to the injury I had before], but it’s still the same zone.

“I started to play well this tournament. I’m disappointed it happened again with the back.”

Halep remains in contention for one of the remaining six spots at the year-end WTA Finals in Shenzhen and is uncertain how her injury will affect the rest of her season.

She is entered in the China Open which begins in Beijing at the weekend.

Rybakina made good on her wildcard when she scored a dramatic, three-set victory over Chinese qualifier Zhu Lin, 7-5 2-6 6-0 and had to weather another battle in the second round against lucky loser Ons Jabeur, needing just under 2 hours to win 6-1 6-7(3) 6-2 to book her clash with Halep.

The 20-year-old Kazakh did well to stay apace during the opening 9 games of their match. After dropping serve early on, she broke Halep to love to keep them on serve at 2-2.

“I started a little bit nervous,” Rybakina admitted afterwards. “But I played good the last few games. I went on court with nothing to lose, to show my best game, to fight.

“Of course, I didn’t want to win the match like this. The worst thing that can happen to an athlete is injuries – I wish Simona a speedy recovery and I’m just happy to be in the quarters.”

The World No 50 now advances to her fifth quarter-final of the season, her first at a premier-level tournament, where she will play Aryna Sabalenka.

Seeded 9th, Sabalenka is the defending champion here and continued her fine form, having dropped only 4 games in her first 2 matches, to upset Bertens, 6-1 7-6(9), for a place in the quarter-finals.

Top seed Barty came from a break down in the second set and saved two set points to defeat No 15 seed Sofia Kenin 6-3 7-5 in an hour and 26 minutes, scoring her 3rd win over the American in 4 meetings this season.

Having had to bounce back from a scrappy opening set to overcome former World No 4 Caroline Garcia in the previous round, Barty settled much sooner on Wednesday.

While still not at her cleanest off the ground – at one point dropping serve with four consecutive forehand errors – the Roland Garros champion was able to better control her backhand slice and essay some classic finesse, while also sending down 5 aces, to take a set characterised by short points.

The quality rose in a second set that saw a greater number of extended rallies as Kenin managed to raise her level.

Despite being broken immediately on a double fault, the 20-year-old took advantage of another flurry of misfiring Barty forehands to break back, setting the stage for a tight second act that featured some compelling counter-punching.

“If I serve well it’s always a good thing — it’s something I work on all the time, and it’s nice when you can get some free points,” Barty said.

“We’ve been close before. We have another opportunity to play another match. This is a beautiful court and it’s really nice to play in front of so many people in this beautiful stadium.

“So it’s exciting to give myself another chance in Wuhan.”

Next up for the top seed, who remains a step ahead of Karolina Pliskova in this week’s battle for the World No 1 ranking, in her third consecutive Wuhan quarter-final will be Petra Martic, a 6-3 6-1 winner over Kudermetova.

Third seeded Svitolina breezed her way past former US Open champion Svetlana Kuztnetsova, 6-4 6-2, in just 76 minutes, breaking the Russian 5 times in the match and winning 77% of her first service points.

Svitolina also produced 16 winners to 15 unforced errors.

“It was quite up and down in the first set. I think Svetlana came back and played some good tennis. I think at 5-4 it was an important game for me to serve it out.” Svitolina said during her on-court interview.

“Then I was quite comfortable from the baseline to win the match.

“I think I was serving good today and striking the ball good.” She added.

Kuznetsova is the second Grand Slam champion to lose to Svitolina this week in China, the first being Garbiñe Muguruza, who was knocked out of the tournament on Tuesday.

Despite being ranked third in the world, Svitolina is yet to claim a title on the tour this year.

Her last appearance in a WTA final was when she won the 2018 WTA Finals in Singapore almost a year ago.

Sviotolina will play either eighth seed Wang Qiang or AmericanAlison Riske in the quarter-finals.

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