Power-hitting Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka had all the answers on Tuesday, dispatching Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, 6-4 6-4, in the opening match of the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, China.
I didn’t play some tournaments since a few weeks ago, so I was really missing tennis. Today I was running to every ball, trying to show my best game. So I’m so happy with this result. Aryna Sabalenka
Caroline Garcia is the other player in the Orchid Group and Barty will now need a win against the Frenchwoman and for Sabalenka to lose to Garcia in order to have the chance of going further in the tournament.
“I’m disappointed not to come away with the win, but I’ll have another opportunity in the next few days to try and finish my season on a real high,” Barty said.
Asked about the strength of the field in Zhuhai, the 2017 semi-finalist said: “It’s phenomenal. I think last year was good, but this year’s another level.
“It’s really exciting for the women’s game. We have the top 20 players in the world this year who are fighting right until the end of the season, which is really positive.”
Sabalenka, the 3rd seed, is one of the hottest players of the season and, at 20-years old, the youngest competitor in the tournament’s four-year history.
The Zhuhai debutante also leads the pack in main draw matches won, with 45 under her belt coming into her opener, and she kept up her form against the 9th seed, last year’s semi-finalist, winning after just under an hour and a half on the stadium court.
“I didn’t play some tournaments since a few weeks ago, so I was really missing tennis,” Sabalenka said in her on-court interview.
“Today I was running to every ball, trying to show my best game. So I’m so happy with this result.
“It’s not my first time in Zhuhai – I was here two years ago for an [ITF] 50K, so it’s not this kind of tournament. I’m excited to be here and so happy with this win.”
That remark reflects her incredible rise up the rankings to just outside the top 10.
Sabalenka, who came into the match with a clear game plan, aggressively attacked Barty from the baseline and followed balls into the net to close out points.
She scored an opening break to lead 2-0 and although Barty’s slice and variety troubled Sabalenka, the Belarusian held firm to extend her lead to 3-1 and rode out the set.
Her form took a dip in the second and Barty pounced on the chances coming her way, grabbing her first break of the match at 3-1 as Sabalenka’s unforced error count grew.
It didn’t last long, as the Belarusian recovered with a break straight back, and then reeled off 4 games in a row to slam the door closed on all of Barty’s comeback efforts, serving out her first victory in Zhuhai.
“It’s the last tournament of the year, and it’s not easy to play to last tournament,” Sabalenka said.
“I’ll just keep trying to show my best and give everything here on this court and go for the rest.”
No 4 seed Elise Mertens made her perfect debut, needing just 66 minutes to defeat Anett Kontaveit from Estonia in straight sets, 6-3 6-1.
The victory also puts the Belgian on top of the Rose Group, which is headlined by defending champion Julia Goerges.