Wimbledon champion Simona Halep has suffered a setback to her chances of reaching the WTA Finals later this year after she was forced to retire from the Wuhan Open on Wednesday.
The world No.6 called it quits 10 games into her match against Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina due to a back injury. Halep was initially neck and neck with her opponent as they exchanged a series of breaks before she called a medical time out and then eventually retired from the match.
“It’s lower back. I think it’s more muscle, but I don’t know yet because I haven’t checked it properly,” she said afterwards.
Halep’s withdrawal triggers flashbacks to 12 months ago when the Romanian was forced to end her 2018 season early due to a back problem. Although there is no indication yet that her latest problem is as severe as what she experienced last year. It is the second time Halep has been forced to retire from a match this season. The first took place last month at the Rogers Cup when a leg injury sidelined her from action.
“At 4-4, 0-30 with the backhand, I had a sharp pain,” she explained.
“I don’t know yet, but it looks a little bit different [to the injury I had before], but it’s still the same zone.
“I started to play well this tournament. I’m disappointed it happened again with the back.”
The 27-year-old is yet to win back-to-back matches since her triumph over Serena Williams at Wimbledon. Overall, her win-loss record since the grand slam currently stands at 5-4.
Capitalising on Halep’s misfortunes, Rybakina moves into the quarter-finals of a Premier event for the first time in her career. The world No.50 clinched her maiden WTA title earlier this year in Bucharest and more recently reached the final of the Nanchang Open. She will next play either Aryna Sabalenka or Kiki Bertens.
“Of course, I didn’t want to win the match like this,” wtatennis.com quoted Rybakina as saying. “The worst thing that can happen to an athlete is injuries – I wish Simona a speedy recovery and I’m just happy to be in the quarters.”
There was better news for third seed Elina Svitolina in her third round match. The Ukrainian breezed her way past former US Open champion Svetlana Kuztnetsova 6-4, 6-2, in just 76 minutes. Breaking the Russian five times in the match and winning 77% of her first service points. Svitolina also produced 16 winners to 15 unforced errors.
“It was quite up and down in the first set. I think Svetlana came back and played some good tennis. I think at 5-4 it was an important game for me to serve it out.” Svitolina said during her on-court interview.
“Then I was quite comfortable from the baseline to win the match.”
“I think I was serving good today and striking the ball good.” She added.
Kuznetsova is the second grand slam champion to lose to Svitolina this week in China. The first was Garbine Muguruza, who was knocked out of the tournament on Tuesday.
Despite being ranked third in the world, Svitolina is yet to claim a title on the tour this year. Her last appearance in a WTA final was when she won the 2018 WTA Finals in Singapore. Almost a year ago.
Sviotolina will play either eighth seed Wang Qiang or Alison Riske in the quarter-finals. Should she win her next match, it will be her best run in Wuhan since 2014.
Kiki Bertens, Aryna Sabalenka Victorious On Opening Day Of Elite Trophy
The higher ranked players have made a solid start at the penultimate tournament of the 2019 WTA season.
Top seed Kiki Bertens has kicked-off her campaign at the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai with a roller coaster straight sets win over Donna Vekic.
Bertens, who hasn’t won a title on the tour since the Madrid Open in May, overcame some testing moments to see off her opponent 7-6(5), 6-2. Extending her head-to-head record against Vekic to 4-3. The Dutch No.1 dropped her serve once in each set on route to victory. Winning 74% of her first service points and converting four out of her seven break point opportunities.
“The first set was really close. We were both fighting for the first set. I think Donna was a little bit injured, but in the second set, I was just trying to get my best from every point and I did that really well.” Bertens said during her on-court interview.
The latest clash between the two was a tale of two halves. To begin, it was Vekic who got off to a better start as she broke right away before the world No.10 clawed her way back to draw level midway through the opener. With little to separate the two, Bertens seized her chance in the tiebreak. Tied at 5-5, she broke the Vekic serve with the help of a clean backhand passing shot for a chance to serve the set out. An opportunity she converted with the help of a forehand error from her opponent.
Clinching the lead, the proceedings were interrupted by a medical time out for Vekic. Who underwent some treatment on her lower back. Upon resumption it was a one-way show with Bertens racing to a set and 5-0 lead. Even a wobble at the very end, where she lost two games in a row, failed to deny the top seed victory.
“I think I went for her shots there and hit a few good returns. My concentration was maybe not there, but I am happy that I could close it (the match) out at 5-2.” Bertens commented about the end to the match.
It is the fourth time Bertens has played Vekic this season. She has won three of those encounters.
Earlier in the day Aryna Sabalenka was another player to make a winning start at the tournament. The fifth seed ousted Greece’s Maria Sakkari 6-3, 6-4. Sabalenka saved all five of the break points she faced throughout the 89-minute clash and dropped just four points behind her first serve (24/28).
Sabalenka is playing in the Rose Group of the round-robin tournament, which also features Elise Mertens. Meanwhile Bertens heads the Azalea Group with a clash against Dayana Yastremska lurking in the coming days.
Kristina Mladenovic Dropped By Coach After Six Months
The 26-year-old reacts to the unexpected departure of her mentor.
Former top 10 player Kristina Mladenovic has suffered an off-court blow following the departure of her coach Sascha Bajin.
The 26-year-old had been working with Bajin since April and has made steady progress on the tour by rising more than 20 places to back inside the world’s top 40. Last Month Mladenovic reached the semi-finals of the Zhengzhou Open, in what was one of her best runs on the WTA Tour this year. During 2019 she has also recorded four wins over top 10 players, including Naomi Osaka when she was No.1 in the world.
It is understood that the departure of Bajin was on his own terms and not of a mutual agreement. Bajin is the former hitting partner of Serena Williams (2008-2015) and help guide Osaka to her two grand slam titles prior to his departure in February. In 2018 he was awarded the inaugural WTA Coach of the Year Award.
“I’m very disappointed about Sasha’s decision not to continue our relationship next season, I enjoyed our work, we had some great wins and I truly felt my game was on the rise again.” Mladenovic wrote on Twitter.
“I think that there was a lot more to achieve together, but I can’t change his opinion and decision. On my side, I am proud of my year and progress and I will keep working hard and build strong to be even better in 2020.”
Last week at the Kremlin Cup Mladenovic reached the semi-finals before losing to eventual champion Belinda Bencic. At the tournament she scored wins over seeded players Anastasija Sevastova and Kiki Bertens. Whilst her season has been mixed, the Frenchwoman believes she has the ability to beat the best players in the world.
“When I put together everything on court I can beat anyone.” She told reporters in Moscow.
“And no matter what the season, no matter what ranking, I always have some upsets here and there but now it is really about coming back in the rankings where I was at my highest. And already this year, I am still not satisfied with my ranking but I have a lot of wins against very good players.”
Mladenovic, who is also a top five doubles player that won the French Open title in June, is currently ranked 39th in the world. She is set set to end the season inside the top 50 for the fifth year in a row.
There has been no information released about who may potentially replace Bajin next year.
Belinda Bencic ‘Happy’ After Qualifying For WTA Finals In Moscow
Belinda Bencic is delighted after not only reaching the Moscow Final and qualifying for the WTA Finals.
Belinda Bencic expressed her happiness after qualifying for the WTA Finals after a 6-3 6-4 win over Kristina Mladenovic in Moscow.
The world number 10 had to reach the final before this week started to secure her place in the season-ending finale and that’s what has happened after beating Mladenovic in straight sets.
Hitting 24 winners, Bencic powered past her French opponent to seal her spot at the WTA Finals for the first time in her career.
After the win Bencic is relieved to achieve a goal that she had set at the start of the year, “I’m so happy I reached the top eight,” the Swiss admitted to wtatennis.com.
“It was a huge goal for me this season and so last-minute. I was so nervous before the match, but also reaching the final here tomorrow is amazing. I’m so happy.
“It was such a good level from us. We know each other well so that’s why it was very tactical. I just tried to really focus on myself and keep my emotions under control.”
As a result of Bencic’s qualification, the field for the WTA Finals is set, which starts on the 28th of October:
- Ashleigh Barty
- Karolina Pliskova
- Naomi Osaka
- Elina Svitolina
- Bianca Andreescu
- Simona Halep
- Petra Kvitová
- Belinda Bencic
The first alternate for the season-ending finale will be Serena Williams, with Kiki Bertens being the second alternate in Shenzhen.
As for Bencic, her week in the Russian capital isn’t done yet as she is set to play Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Karolina Muchova in tomorrow’s Kremlin Cup.
Should the 22 year-old win tomorrow she will win her second title of the season following on from her victory in Dubai in February.
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