Ashleigh Barty is already guaranteed to finish the year as world No 1 and the 23-year-old Australian served notice here on Thursday of her aim to finish the season in appropriate fashion at the Shiseido WTA Finals. Barty secured her place in Saturday’s semi-finals with her best performance of the tournament so far when she beat Petra Kvitova 6-4, 6-2 in less than an hour and a half.
After losing her second round-robin match to Kiki Bertens, Barty knew that she had to beat Kvitova to guarantee her progress in the competition. She did so in emphatic style. The French Open champion, who became the first player this week not to drop her serve in a match, played superbly on most of the big points. The slow court did not suit Kvitova’s big-hitting game and Barty returned serve particularly well.
The statistics of the first set told their own story. Kvitova, going for her shots, had four breakpoints, but Barty successfully defended all of them. Kvitova had to defend only three breakpoints, but Barty converted the last of them at the end of the eighth game to take a decisive 5-3 lead. The world No 1 drove home her advantage in the second set to secure her place in the last four.
Barty’s victory came nine months after she won only five games in losing to Kvitova in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. Since then she has beaten the former Wimbledon champion three times in a demonstration of how much she has improved in the year.
“It was the first time I had played Petra indoors,” Barty said afterwards. “I had to adjust and take some time to get used to her ball off the court and everything like that. I was particularly happy with the way I was able to return tonight. I think Petra changed her serving spots to her usual kind of serving spots. I think she was trying to take a little bit more of a risk. That kind of worked in my favour a bit.”
She added: “Playing against Petra is probably one of my favourite things to do, if I'm being honest. Win or lose, it's going to be a great match. It's going to be played in the right spirit. I just enjoy the challenge of playing against Petra. She really does bring out the best in me.”
Barty is the first Australian to reach the semi-finals of the year-end tournament since Sam Stosur lost to Kvitova in 2011. Stosur is here competing in the doubles and is also through to the semi-finals with her Chinese partner, Shuai Zhang.
Kvitova, who had lost in three sets in both her previous matches, admitted that she felt tired after a long season. “Mentally and physically it was pretty tiring,” she said as she looked back over her year. “Playing in a Grand Slam final again [at the Australian Open] was definitely the highlight. Qualifying here was great too, so I shouldn't be that disappointed, but right now it's not really easy to take it.”
Belinda Bencic became the second player to qualify for the semi-finals from the Red Group after Kiki Bertens retired early in the second set when trailing the Swiss 7-5, 1-0. Bertens, who had come into the tournament as an alternate after Naomi Osaka withdrew after her first match because of a shoulder injury, served for the opening set at 5-4 but was feeling unwell and quit after the tournament doctor came on court to examine her.
With Elina Svitolina having already qualified for the semi-finals from the Purple Group, the last berth will be filled by the winner of Friday’s meeting between Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova in the concluding round-robin match. The winner will play Barty on Saturday, while Svitolina will face Bencic.
Bianca Andreescu, who had been due to face Svitolina on Friday in what amounted to a dead rubber, withdrew from the tournament as a result of the knee injury which forced her to retire from her round-robin match against Pliskova on Wednesday. “I had a scan to check my knee after last night’s match, and unfortunately the results show that I need to withdraw,” Andreescu said.
Andreescu’s place against Svitolina will be taken by the second alternate, Sofia Kenin, who cannot progress to the semi-finals but knows that winning her only match would earn her $305,000 (about £235,000) to go with her fee of $165,000 (£127,000) just for being here.
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