The Huafa Technology WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai kicked off in China on Tuesday with wins for top seed Barbora Krejcikova in the Azalea Group, Beatriz Haddad Maia in the Camellia Group and Zhu Lin in the Rose Group.
All three took pole position in their respective pools on the opening day of the Elite Trophy, the season-ending championships featuring the top 11 players who narrowly missed the cut for the WTA Finals, which begin on Sunday in Cancun, Mexico, plus a local wild-card.
Players in Zhuhai are divided into 4 groups of 3 players, with the winner of each group advancing to the semi-finals on Saturday. The final is scheduled for Sunday.
Krejcikova came from 3-0 down in the second set to defeat No 11 seed, Magda Linette from Poland, 6-2 6-4, and lines up on Wednesday against Russian Daria Kasatkina in the Azalea Group in a bid to seal her spot in the semi-final knock-out stage.
The former Roland Garros champion had to come through a trio of three-deuce tussles on serve in the first set, and faced a point to go down a 4-0 double break in the second, while she also struggled with inconsistency on her serve, committing 9 double faults in total.
She was able to find her best deliveries and most accurate winners when she needed to, though, and saved all 6 break points that she faced in the first set, and 9 of the 10 overall.
In the second, Linette held a point to go up 4-0, and two to go up 4-1, but after Krejcikova had denied her, the Czech took back the momentum and reeled Pole in, winning 6 of the last 7 games.
American Madison Keys, the No 2 seed, was upset by Haddad Maia, 6-4 6-4, who took an early lead in the the Camellia group, which also includes 20th-ranked Caroline Garcia, the 2022 WTA Finals champion.
It was just the second win in 4 tournaments on the tour’s Asia swing for the Brazilian, who has only won 5 matches since Wimbledon.
A back injury and a freak shower accident that saw her getting stitches in both hands ended her run in Guadalajara, but she seems to be making a return to form in Zhuhai.
It was a solid performance from the Brazilian, who proved the more consistent at key moments, saving 6 of the 7 break points she faced.
In the first set, she leapt out to a 4-1 lead, only for Keys to hit a hot streak of net play to level at 4-4, but it was Haddad Maia who held firm at the end of both sets, sealing each with a break to love.
Serving at 4-5 in the first, Keys was undone by a slew of miscued forehands, while, at the same stage in the second, she coughed up 2 of her 4 double-faults, before Haddad Maia converted her first match point with a clean return winner.
Keys is the most Zhuhai experienced of the players in this year’s field, having competed here 3 times before, but the American has only made it out of the round-robin stage once, in 2018, when she was forced to withdraw ahead of the semi-finals due to a knee injury.
The American plays Garcia on Wednesday, in what is now a must-win match for Keys to keep any semi-final hopes alive.
Chinese wild-card Zhu pulled off the surprise of the day taking down Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova, 7-6(5) 6-1, to wrap up the action, saving 3 set points in her upset of the No 5 seed to take an early lead in the Rose group.
Zhu, the World No 37, was down a break twice in the opening set of the evening match, and Kudermetova held two set points on the Chinese serve at 5-4, plus a third at 6-5, but Zhu escaped both with gritty holds to line up the tiebreak.
The first 11 points of the breaker went with serve, resulting in Zhu’s first set point at 6-5, and there, Kudermetova was the first to drop her’s when she miscues a forehand into the net, allowing the Chinese to edge out the opening frame after 83 minutes.
Zhu maintained her momentum deep into the second set, powering to a 4-0 lead, and, at 5-1, her second ace of the day brought the Chinese her first match point.
She converted on her second when Kudermetova sent a service return long.
The 2-hour and 12-minute upset win by Zhu avenged her loss to Kudermetova in their only prior meeting, in the 1st-round of Roland Garros last year.
By beating the World No 16, Zhu picked up her 7th career Top 20 win, 5 of which have come this year.
On Wednesday, another home favourite, Zheng Qinwen, the 7th-seed, will kick off Orchid Group action against No 10 seed Donna Vekic from Croatia, while Krejcikova and Keys take on Kasatkina and Garcia respectively.