Ashleigh Barty And Belinda Bencic Clinch Semi-Final Spots In Shenzhen - UBITENNIS
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Ashleigh Barty And Belinda Bencic Clinch Semi-Final Spots In Shenzhen

Barty advanced to the semi-finals of the WTA Finals with a straight-sets win over Kvitova, while Bencic progressed when Bertens retired.

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Ashleigh Barty (@thenewspick2 on Twitter)

Ashleigh Barty and Belinda Bencic progressed to the semi-finals at the WTA Finals in straightforward fashion on a day that could have been chaotic.

 

The Australian advanced first with a comfortable 6-4 6-2 win over Petra Kvitova. Then the Swiss won a tight first set 7-5 against Kiki Bertens before the Dutchwoman was forced to retire with a viral illness early in the second set.

It was a significant performance from Barty. The BT Sport commentators reported that she had seemed visibly unhappy during a practice session the day after her disappointing loss to Bertens, so she needed to bounce back in her final group match.

Pleasingly for the Australian and her team, that is exactly what she did. She executed her wide variety of skills to excellent effect and proved way too good for the obviously exhausted Kvitova on the day.

“(Because it was) my first time playing Petra indoors, I had to adjust and take some time to get used to her ball off the court and everything like that,” Barty said in her press conference.

“But I was particularly happy with the way I was able to return tonight. I think Petra changed her serving spots and I think she was trying to take a little bit more of a risk. That kind of worked in my favour a bit tonight, and I was really happy to nudge in front early in both sets and keep the foot down.”

Barty reflects on her brilliant 2o19

With the end of the season now just a few days away, the Australian reflected on her highly successful year.

“I think it’s incredible to have progressed from Zhuhai the last two years to be here playing singles in Shenzhen,” Barty said. “It’s very exciting. I’ve had a very consistent year across all surfaces, all throughout the year, which has been the most pleasing thing.”

She continued, “A goal of mine at the start of the year was to do well in the Grand Slams. I think I’ve done that much better this year. I made second week of every Grand Slam. That was a big bonus and a big push towards getting here in Shenzhen.”

WTA Finals appearance caps a superb year for Bencic

Belinda Bencic (@somostenisbr on Twitter)

Bencic has also enjoyed a fantastic year. She won Premier titles in Dubai and Moscow, reached her first Grand Slam semi-final at the US Open and has reached one other final, three semi-finals and a quarter-final.

When she qualified for Shenzhen, the Swiss was ecstatic. She said that she was already delighted with how her year had gone and the chance to go to Shenzhen made it even sweeter. Now that she is through to the semi-final stage, it must feel like one bonus after another for her at the moment.

“It feels pretty amazing,” Bencic said. “I mean, especially after I made it at the last minute, now semi-final, through the group after I lost the first match. It feels very nice, I have to say. I’m super proud of the work my team and I did all year. So thanks to them, as well.”

She continued, “It was very nice to finally get this match, Bencic-Bertens, after such a fight (for the last qualifying spot) at the end of the season. Maybe her gas just really ran out.”

“It was a bit unfortunate. Obviously not the way I wanted to win, but I’m super proud of how I fought in that set. I was thinking if she wins the first set, maybe different story.”

Bencic added, “After I lost the first match here, I just wanted to kind of keep fighting, and you never know. There are people that made it to the semi-final when they won just one match. I was always thinking of those positives.”

“You always have to fight till the end. I think everyone is, like, exhausted and injured, all of that. I think now it’s all about the mental strength to go through all of this.”

Bencic relaxed ahead of Svitolina clash

While Barty has to wait until tomorrow to find out who she will play in the last four, Bencic already knows she will face Elina Svitolina, who will finish top of the Purple Group after she won both of her matches so far in straight sets.

“She’s one of the players that this court suits a lot, more the defensive ones,” the Swiss said. “Also she can turn around the rally and turn it into offense. I’m aware of that.”

“I think I’ll focus on my game. I’ve reached semi-finals. I’m so relaxed already really. I will just play and fight like always.”

As Bencic is already so happy with what she has achieved in 2019, there is definitely a sense that the pressure is off. However, if there was pressure, she could probably handle it.

“I feel really confident under pressure now somehow,” the World No.7 said. “It makes me really proud. Obviously everyone misses their chances sometimes, loses tough battles. For now I’m really happy it works out for me. I’m trying to be fearless on the court, not being afraid to lose but playing for a victory.”

She added, “I’m really proud already how I handled my nerves in Moscow because that was insane crazy. I was never so nervous in my life. Now, here, it just feels less. I feel like everything is going to feel less nerve-wrecking than Moscow.”

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Unstoppable Aryna Sabalenka Storms To Abu Dhabi Title

Another clinical performance has secured the Belarusian her third consecutive title and a new career-high ranking position.

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Aryna Sabalenka’s winning run shows no signs of stopping anytime soon after she powered her way to the Abu Dhabi title on Wednesday.

 

The fourth seed needed just over an hour to defeat Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova 6-2, 6-2, in what was a largely one-sided encounter in the Middle East. Sabalenka utilized her power to her advantage as she fired five aces and 18 winners past her opponent who was playing in her first WTA final at the age of 23. Overall she won almost twice as many points (63-37) than Kudermetova.

With both players holding their ground early on, Sabalenka started to dominate midway through the opening set with the help of a four-game winning streak. Leading 3-2 on serve, she broke her Russian rival twice in a row to clinch the 6-2 lead. Throughout the opener the world No.10 dropped just five points behind her serve.

It was a familiar pattern in the second frame with Sabalenka continuing to dismantle Kudermetova’s fragile serve. Overall, she broke six consecutive times in the final with four of those occurring in the second set alone. Easing to a game away from victory, she did experience a blunder after losing one of her breaks. However, there would be no chance of a Kudermetova comeback as Sabalenka closed out the match in the following game with her rival hitting a forehand error on match point.

“I’m really proud of the fact that I was fighting no matter what this week,” the new champion reflected on her performance. “Some matches I didn’t feel my serve and some matches I didn’t feel my backhand or forehand, but I just kept fighting and finding my shots, and this is what I’m really proud of. I’m really happy with this title.”

The win extends Sabalenka’s unbeaten run on the Tour to 15 wins. She has now won three titles in a row after ending 2020 triumphing in both Ostrava and Linz. As a result of her latest triumph, Sabalenka will rise to a ranking high of seventh in the world on Monday.

There is also a silver lining for underdog Kudermetova who defeated Elina Svitolina and Marta Kostyuk earlier in the tournament. Her run to the final will move her up the rankings to a career high of 36th. She has already scored five wins over top 10 opponents so far in her career.

“Aryna’s playing good. She played unbelievable today,” Kudermetova said. “She didn’t give me a lot of chances. She tried to keep every ball on the court, she tried to attack, and when she had her chances she went full power on the court. She also fights until the end—that’s why she’s a top player.”

Sabalenka’s surge on the Tour has sparked high expectations for her going into the Australian Open where she is hoping to break new ground in a Grand Slam.

“I was doing everything I could in each match from the beginning (in Abu Dhabi) and I’m happy to start the season with a title,” Sabalenka said. “I’m going to Australia, I’m confident with one thing, that I will do everything I can to win matches.”

Despite her success on the WTA Tour, she has only reached the fourth round of a major once at the 2018 US Open.

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WTA Abu Dhabi Daily Preview: Aryna Sabalenka Vies for her Third Consecutive WTA Title

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Aryna Sabalenka has lots of reasons to smile as of late (twitter.com/WTA)

In a rare Wednesday final, she’ll face Veronika Kudermetova, who is playing in her first WTA championship singles match.

 

At the beginning of 2019, Aryna Sabalenka debuted inside the WTA top 10.  That was coming off a 2018 season where in which Aryna accumulated 47 match wins, two titles, and reached the second week of a Major for the first time.  From there, her progress stagnated a bit, as she spent the last two years ranked between No.9 and No.16.  But now she’s on a 14-match winning streak, having claimed back-to-back titles to end 2020.  With a win on Wednesday, she would reach a career-high ranking of No.7.

At the beginning of 2019, Veronika Kudermetova debuted inside the WTA top 100.  The Russian steadily climbed the rankings that year, reaching the top 40 at the end of the season.  Since the tour restart last August, the 23-year-old was a modest 7-6 before this event.  But she dropped only one set this week on her way to her first WTA final, which included impressive wins over Elina Svitolina and Anett Kontaveit.

Aryna Sabalenka (4) vs. Veronika Kudermetova

Their only previous meeting does not provide much guidance as to what will happen on Wednesday.  It took place six years ago at an ITF Challenger event in Antalya, which Sabalenka claimed in straight sets.  Kudermetova will surely be nervous, as this is the biggest match of her career to date.  And she’s facing an ultra-confident Sabalenka, who is on a 14-0 run.  Yesterday, Aryna easily dispatched of an in-form Maria Sakkari, requiring only 57 minutes in a match where she struck 22 winners and only eight unforced errors.  After yesterday’s win, Sabalenka told the press she’s focusing less on winning and more on the process of improving her game, and cited this as the reason for her current win streak.  When Aryna is at her best, she can outhit just about anyone on tour.  And we’ve seen before how difficult she is to defeat when she’s on a tear like this.  I’m not betting against this version of Sabalenka winning her third straight title.

Other action on Wednesday:

In the doubles championship match, it’s 2020 St. Petersburg champions Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara (5) vs. Hayley Carter and Luisa Stefani, recent champions in Lexington.  These two teams played in the third round of Roland Garros a few months ago, with the Japanese team prevailing in straight sets.

Full order of play is here.

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Aryna Sabalenka Storms Into Abu Dhabi Final

The world No.10 has now won 14 matches in a row.

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Fourth seed Aryna Sabalenka produced a dominant performance as she brushed aside Maria Sakkari 6-3, 6-2, to reach the final of the Abu Dhabi Women’s Open.

 

Sabalenka, who is bidding to win her third WTA title in a row, took control of the semi-final encounter during the early stages with the help of her powerful shot-making. Best illustrated by her 22 winners compared to just eight unforced errors. A stark contrast to Sakkari’s tally of 12 and 21. Sabalenka was also supreme behind her first serve where she won 83% of the points.

I like to play against her,” Sabalenka said of Sakkari. “I think I’m just putting pressure on her every match we’re playing, and it’s helped me win all those matches.”

A clinical start to the match saw the Belarusian race to a 5-1 lead before Sakkari managed to gain any momentum herself. The Greek retrieved one of the breaks to close the gap to 5-3 but it was too little too late as Sabalenka served the set out with relative ease.

The second frame promised to be more of a close encounter early on with Sakkari producing the tennis which shows why she is ranked just outside of the world’s top 20. However, the problem for her was that she struggled to find a way to cope with Sabalenka’s sheer power. Level at 2-2, the world No.10 broke once again as Sakkari let out a burst of frustration. From then on it was a foregone conclusion as Sabalenka won four games in a row to seal victory in just under an hour.

Since her loss at the French Open, the 22-year-old has won 14 matches in a row. At the end of 2020 she claimed titles in Ostrava and Linz. Meanwhile, this week Sabalenka has also previously beaten Polona Hercog, Ajla Tomljanovic, Ons Jabeur and Elena Rybakina.

“I think I’ve put my focus in the right space,” she said. “I’m focusing on the right things, which helps me not think about all of these wins, and so it helps me to keep winning. I need to keep concentrating on my game and my movement on the court, and trying to do everything I can in the moment.

Should Sabalenka go on to win the Abu Dhabi title she will rise to a ranking high of seventh in the world. Awaiting her in the final will be either Veronika Kudermetova or Marta Kostyuka.

“I’m really looking forward to this final,” Sabalenka said.
“I’m just focusing on the right things. This helps me to, first of all, not think about all these wins, and secondly, to keep winning.”

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