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Zhuhai | Bertens battles past Zheng into final

An out-of-sorts Kiki Bertens clawed her way back from a set down to beat China’s Zheng Saisai, 2-6 6-3 6-4, on Saturday and advanced to the final of the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai in China.

[I am feeling] exhausted. I was really, really tired before the match... a little bit of cramping here and there.“But we [will] prepare as good as we can for tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll have one more final push and just give all the energy that’s left in me Kiki Bertens

The top seed had won her only prior meeting with the home favourite at the 2016 Miami Open in straight sets and was made to overcome her own mood as well as the slowness of her Chinese opponent, who seemingly makes a habit of exasperating her rivals by taking the maximum time she can in matches

Zheng had orchestrated 16 minutes of delays by the time the match had reached a set all, including 2 comfort breaks and a medical timeout.

Her pedestrian stroll to her chair after a 9 minute time-out prompted a wry look to her coach from Bertens, who was waiting on the court, but it did not speed up the Chinese as she re-arranged her towels, changed her racket and took a drink before ambling back to serve the opening game of the decider.

This could be considered gamesmanship but, if the rules allow it, then so be it – it is just not fair on the opponent, or the crowd for that matter, not to mention the worldwide television audience.

Bertens, who is the first alternate at next week’s Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, picked up round-robin wins over Donna Vekic and Dayana Yastremska to finish first in the Azalea Group with an undefeated record.

Zheng was the second straight Chinese player to reach the semi-finals at Zhuhai, following in the footsteps of Wang Qiang, who reached last year’s final, with her opening win over Madison Keys instrumental in putting her atop the closely-contested Orchid Group.

The World No 10, having dropped her first set in the tournament and gone a break down in the second, stormed back into the contest by winning 9 of the next 11 games to turn the tables on the local favourite and take a 4-1 lead in the decider.

With home support well and truly behind her, the Chinese wildcard did manage to battle back to 4-4 as Bertens wrapped up the marathon encounter in 2-and-a-half hours.

“I like it more, to be honest, when the crowd is against me than for me,” Bertens admitted to reporters later. “I think that just gives me a little bit more energy and a feeling that I really want to win.

“[I am feeling] exhausted. I was really, really tired before the match… a little bit of cramping here and there.

“But we [will] prepare as good as we can for tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll have one more final push and just give all the energy that’s left in me.”

She had come through a marathon in the first semi-final, ending any title hopes the Chinese wildcard may have had by reaching her 5th final of the year.

After just missing out on qualifying for the WTA Finals for the second straight year, the top seed did not lose a set in round-robin play against Donna Vekic and Dayana Yastremska, but needed every minute of the 2 hours and 30 minutes on the match clock to defeat Zheng in their first meeting in over 3 years.

From a set and a break down at 6-2 2-1, Bertens won 9 of the next 11 games to not only to tie the match at one set all, but build a 4-1 lead in the decider.

“I knew I had to do something else, because Saisai was putting so much balls back on the court and I just had not the energy to play those long rallies,” Bertens said.

“I was just mixing it up, trying to do some serve and volley, which was working pretty well, I was surprised with that. So I just kept on going for it.

“She gave me some mistakes also, so then I start believing that I could still turn this match around.”

Buoyed by the support of the Chinese fans, however, Zheng battled back, and capped 3 straight games of her own with a titanic, 13-minute break of the Bertens serve to level the final set at 4-4.

The World No 10, nevertheless, found her form down the last stretch at just the right time, and captured the final 2 games of the decider, eventually sealing victory as Zheng’s final forehand found the net.

“I am happy how I played today, I fight until the end, and I played pretty well at the beginning, first set,” Zheng said in defeat.

“Then in the second set she start to serve better, she wasn’t serving that well in the first set.

“She gave me much more trouble when I returned, and I wasn’t very focused on my serve, I was missing a couple like easy shots and I gave her my service game.

“In the third set I was down first, and then I really like worked hard to come back to 4-4 and I think I made a mistake, I was playing the new balls and I wasn’t playing aggressive tactics.

“It’s pretty close match and even though I didn’t play the right moment the right way, but I’m happy I was fighting until the end.”

Not a word on the annoying delays and interruptions…

Bertens won just 1 more point than Zheng over the course of the match, 88 to 87, and although each player broke serve 5 times, the Dutchwoman’s efficiency on her opportunities helped her come out on top.

She went 5-for-7 on her chances on Zheng’s serve, while the World No 40 went 5-for-11, which included 4 unconverted break points down the stretch in the second set.

In the final Bertens faces Aryna Sabalenka, who came back from a break down in both sets to beat the Czech Republic’s Karolina Muchova, 7-5 7-6(4), in the second semi-final.

The Dutchwoman is looking extend her head-to-head lead over the Belarusian to 5-1.

The 4th-seed, who has won 3 of her 4 singles titles in China, was made to save a set point on serve in the second set before sealing her spot in the final in the ensuing tiebreak.

Sunday’s final will be Sabalenka’s 9th of her career and her 4th of this season.

“[I played] Aryna already a few times this year, but it’s a final, so whoever is the best can win,” Bertens said.

“Before the match, it’s just really like getting all the energy together and just trying to give it all, and that’s what I’ve been doing all week.

“I think every day I’m surprising myself what’s still in me, still the fighting spirit. I only can hope that I can have it one more time tomorrow.

“We’ll prepare as good as we can for tomorrow and hopefully I’ll have one more final push and just give all the energy that’s left in me.”

“We’ll prepare as good as we can for tomorrow and hopefully I’ll have one more final push and just give all the energy that’s left in me.”






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