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Zhuhai | Sabalenka beats Bertens to win Elite Trophy

Aryna Sabalenka likes playing in China and she capped her Asian swing by winning the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai on Sunday.

It’s been a crazy year... I’m happy to finish it with a title and hopefully there are many more to come Aryna Sabalenka

Her straight-sets victory over top seed Kiki Bertens, 6-4 6-2, took the 21-year-old from Belarus’ tally to 3 titles in China in 2019, having won both at Shenzhen at the start of the year and then the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open in Wuhan in September.

In total, 4 of her 5 career WTA singles titles have been won in China, where she held a 32-7 career record in tour-level matches going into her 5th final in the country.

“Well, it seems I like to play in China and China likes me too,” Sabalenka said after lifting the trophy.

“It’s been a crazy year… I’m happy to finish it with a title and hopefully there are many more to come.”

This win has earned her $700,000 and enough points to finish the season in the top 11, just behind Serena Williams, despite some poor results and early exits in 2019.

Bertens entered Zhuhai as the top seed this week, the first time in her career she had been seeded No 1 at a tournament, Premier-level or higher.

The Dutch No 1 had won 54 matches this season, more than any other player on tour, as she looked to win her third title of 2019.

Ranked 14th in the world, the hard-hitting Sabalenka had other ideas, despite holding a 1-4 record against the Dutchwoman, with her only previous win coming recently in Wuhan.

Both the singles finalists were making their second appearance in Zhuhai, with each advancing to the final for the first time.

Bertens was previously eliminated in the round robin stage in 2016, while Sabalenka beat eventual champion Ash Barty but nonetheless fell in the round robin stage last year.

Sabalenka used all of her aggression to go for broke in her last singles match of the season, and attained the victory after an hour and 16 minutes of play.

The Belarusian never faced a break point, hit 17 winners against 14 unforced errors and held a clear edge in the more extended rallies to leave Bertens behind and claim the title with 3 breaks from the 8 chances she created.

Bertens, who also scored 14 unforced errors but was only able to muster up 11 winners on the day, fended off a break chance in the 2nd game with an ace.

She was powerless, however, on the return as Sabalenka rattled off one good hold after another.

The hard-hitting Belarusian gunned for the lines and put Bertens in immediate danger by reaching break point in the Dutchwoman’s opening service game.

Big-serving Bertens, though, evaded peril by erasing the opportunity with an ace before holding on for 1-1.

Both persisted as the opening frame wore on, but Sabalenka earned the first big chance at 5-4, when a perfectly punched volley was too much for Bertens to handle and gave her triple set point.

A forehand went awry to squander the first chance but, on the second, Sabalenka blasted a winning crosscourt backhand pass to seal the set.

Sabalenka’s momentum continued into the second, as powerful service returns garnered her an immediate break, which she consolidated by holding to establish a 3-0 lead.

At 3-1, Sabalenka got another break in her favour at 30-30, when an overhead clipped the net-cord, but was still sturdy enough to be a winner, and she fired a backhand winner on the next point to eke out the hold for 4-1.

After punching a volley to close out a 5-2 lead, Sabalenka saw 3 match points come and go in the next game, as Bertens fought valiantly to hold onto her serve one more time.

Sabalenka forced an error with a big forehand to queue up her 4th match point, and a deep forehand forced a long miscue to give her the victory.

Hitting almost 60% of her shots from inside the baseline, Sabalenka had simply stood too strong for the Dutchwoman.

Sabalenka will have no time to rest, though, as she heads to the WTA Finals in Shenzhen where she and Belgian Elise Mertens are the top seeds in the doubles competition and play their first match on Monday.

The pair have already claimed doubles titles at the US Open, the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, and the Miami Open.



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