After reaching the final in Zhuhai at the WTA Elite Trophy, Kiki Bertens flew into Shenzhen to be the first alternate at the WTA Finals. Having played every week since the US Open, it has been a hectic schedule for the Dutch as she eventually managed to compete in Shenzhen in the most anti-climatic way. Naomi Osaka was forced to announce her withdrawal from the event for the second year in the running, and Bertens, just three hours before the scheduled match, was tasked to take over the Japanese’s spot in the tournament.
She faced nemesis and world number one Ashleigh Barty and stood an outside chance of qualifying for the semifinals considering that she will play just two matches. The Australian’s chances of getting past the group stages were boosted, but eventually, she was stunned by the fatigued Bertens in three sets, throwing the group wide open once again.
After grabbing a terrific three-set comeback win over Belinda Bencic on Sunday, Barty was unable to replicate her feat and Bertens was able to clinch a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over the world number one, her first in six attempts.
A win on Thursday against Bencic will send Bertens through to the semifinals for the second consecutive year, but anything less than a win will mean an exit in the group stages. Likewise, for Barty, she needs a win to confirm her semifinal ticket. Otherwise, she can only afford a three-set defeat with a Bertens three-set victory, and the rest will depend on game percentage.
Barty storms to the first set
The world number one proved her credentials with a comfortable love service hold to start the match with. Surprisingly, in this battle of big servers, five consecutive breaks followed as neither were able to find their first serves consistently while Bertens just could not find her range. However, you could blame neither of them with the slow indoor courts and the world number 10 had barely practised on the courts in Shenzhen.
Other than a couple of abundant unforced errors, Barty played a relatively solid set as she slammed down two consecutive love service holds to seal the opening set 6-3 with her opponent not looking comfortable on the court at all.
Bertens fights back from the brink
Bertens finally had something to cheer for when she bravely fended off multiple break points to seal the confidence-boosting hold in the opening game of the second set. That did not seem to spur her on, though, as Barty soon led by a set and a break with the match looking to be effectively over.
Struggling physically and tired mentally, the battle for Bertens was all in the mind. After getting broken to trail 2-3, she called her coach Elise Tamela down for a chat, who told her to give it her all and find everything she had on the court.
From there, it was one-way traffic as Bertens dominated the net and came out of nowhere to rattle off four consecutive games, levelling the scores as Shenzhen witnessed yet another match which went the distance.
Bertens overcomes slight wobble to triumph
The momentum was all with Bertens as Barty completely lost the rhythm on her shots, spraying errors from every corner of the court. Within a blink of an eye, the Australian world number one fell behind 0-4, losing her eighth consecutive game, as her semifinal ticket looked in jeopardy.
A marathon fifth game saw Barty fending off three break points with some desperate, solid first serves which saved some grace as she prevented her opponent from having a chance to serve for the bagel. An improbable comeback looked possible when she clinched three straight games to minimize the deficit, and Bertens looked wobbly on the court as errors started to flood her game.
Nonetheless, a routine service hold helped Bertens to regain authority of the final set, and ultimately served out the match comfortably to clinch her first win over Barty, and put herself in serious contention for a semifinal spot.