A battle between two debutantes was one of the highlights on the opening day of the 2019 WTA Finals Shenzhen, with world number one Ashleigh Barty going up against the resurgent Belinda Bencic in a first career meeting between the two talented players. It was an interesting clash of styles, with Bencic, not a player who would be bothered by Barty’s lethal backhand slice, having the weapons to break down the world number one’s game.
Struggling with a left foot injury, Bencic had the great start but was unable to sustain her high level throughout the match, with Barty producing the more patient and disciplined tennis to claim the 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 win on her debut in Shenzhen. Firing 11 aces and 30 winners to 29 unforced errors, of which 20 of them came in the opening set, Barty will be pleased with her performance.
Bencic will look to receive treatment as soon as possible before she takes on Petra Kvitova in her second round-robin match on Tuesday, with her 30 unforced errors being a cause of concern and she definitely cannot afford that against the big-hitting Czech.
Bencic steals the tight opening set
The server dominated the opening frame with just one solitary break of serve in the last game, but in fact, Barty had the first big chance in her first return game of the match. Bencic’s nerves were evident as she took the biggest stage of women’s tennis for the first time in her career but quickly rose to the occasion by serving an ace to erase the break point, the only one she would face in the opening set.
Loose errors from Barty were present throughout, and that could be credited to the nerves as well considering it is also the Australian’s first appearance at the prestigious year-end championships in singles. She looked on course for another comfortable hold at 5-5, but a couple of unforced errors saw Bencic grabbing the advantage and earning the golden opportunity to serve out the set.
Serving her fifth ace of the day, the Swiss confidently claimed the opening set and was just a set away from sealing another top-10 scalp, having already earned 9 top-10 wins this year.
Barty fights back in style
Barty sensed danger when she dropped the opening set and she replied in the best possible fashion — winning five consecutive games without reply. Bencic, on the other hand, grew increasingly frustrated with herself and her movement looked hindered, possibly due to the left foot injury she would later receive treatment for.
Saving a break point, Barty converted on her fourth set point and eventually levelled the scores within a blink of an eye. She significantly cleaned up her game and Bencic lost the rhythm on her groundstrokes, spraying errors from the baseline.
A bright start to the deciding set for the Swiss made it seem like the decider would be a close one, but Barty was determined to close it out quickly as she rode on her momentum and clinched another five games in a row.
Bencic stopped the rout with a routine service hold, which can be crucial in the round-robin format which could take into consideration the number of sets and games won. Nonetheless, she was unable to prevent the inevitable as Barty dominated on her serve, winning 12 of the last 15 games to seal the perfect start in Shenzhen.