The future is now. 20-year-old Aryna Sabalenka went up against 22-year-old Anett Kontaveit in a relatively young final at the 2018 Wuhan Open. Sabalenka’s outstanding year continued in Wuhan with a terrific and straightforward 6-3, 6-3 win over the Estonian, triumphing after just an hour and 13-minutes of play as she fired 25 winners and producing just 24 unforced errors.
Kontaveit started the match well but failed to keep up with her opponent’s pace and power, being dominated in the encounter as Sabalenka did not let loose and hand out many free points. The world number 20, who is set to rise to a career-high ranking of 16 on Monday, lost just seven points each behind her first and second serves while Kontaveit failed to match up Sabalenka in terms of power; unable to find a break point opportunity throughout the entire encounter.
This Premier 5 tournament has witnessed the rise of current top-10 star Caroline Garcia last year — can Sabalenka replicate the Wuhan-Beijing double and produce a late surge to qualify for the WTA Finals in Singapore? With this win, she rises to 11th in the Porsche Race to Singapore leaderboard, whereas, Kontaveit edges closer than ever to a top-20 debut.
Sabalenka storms to the first set
It was an even start to the match for both players, who seemed unaffected by nerves as the quality of rallies were immense. Sabalenka, however, started in a shaky manner as her unforced errors almost proved to be costly at moments. She fell into a 0-30 hole in the opening game and found herself in tricky 30-30 situations in all but one of her service games. Nonetheless, she was the more aggressive player on the court and her aggression paid off on the important points.
The first and only break of serve in the opening frame came in the fourth game. Sabalenka came up with several stunning returns before grabbing the early advantage with an unbelievable dropshot winner — showcasing her varied play and proving that her game is not just all about power. Kontaveit stood firm and fended off another break point soon later, but failed to dig for opportunities on the return as Sabalenka comfortably served out the set 6-3.
Sabalenka too good for the Estonian
Kontaveit was pushing for a comeback early in the second set, although judging by the circumstances it seemed highly unlikely that Sabalenka would sacrifice her lead. The Estonian was forced to save multiple break points in the third game, and although those were signs for a momentum shift, it only provided Sabalenka with more fight to close out her service games easily.
From 2-3 down, Sabalenka rattled off 12 of the next 14 points to surge towards a commanding 5-3 lead within a blink of an eye. Powerful groundstrokes helped the Belarusian control proceedings and Kontaveit found herself having to serve to stay in the match, adding onto the pressure she has to face in the biggest final of her career thus far. Her serve faltered when it mattered, losing a 30-0 lead as Sabalenka blasted a huge forehand down-the-line winner.