ZHUHAI, November 4, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Ashleigh Barty culminated her second straight Top 20 year in style. Her brilliantly constructed match point, which ended with a leaping back-handed volley winner, earned the Australian the biggest title of her career. Barty won the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai title with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Wang Qiang on Sunday afternoon in Zhuhai, China.
Lifting the trophy capped quite a week for the World No. 19 Barty. After losing to Aryna Sabalenka in her round-robin opener, Barty came back with a solid win over Caroline Garcia. Then, she advanced to the final with a three-set victory over Julia Goerges in Saturday’s semifinal round. Meanwhile, after splitting her two group play matches, losing to top seed Daria Kasatkina and beating Madison Keys, Wang earned a semifinal berth after Keys withdrew due to a knee injury. She promptly beat Garbiñe Muguruza in straight sets to advance to the final.
Against Wang, whom she had beaten in their only previous meeting earlier this year in Strasbourg, Barty raced out to a 4-0 lead in the opening set by playing focused and steady tennis. She won 16 of the first 22 points of the match and kept the Chinese No. 1 off balance throughout much of the 81-minute final. Although Wang came back and won three straight games, erasing both service breaks and coming within a point of tying the score at 4-all, Barty regained control and broke with a nifty drop shot. Then, on serve through the first six games of the final set, Barty took advantage of a series of errors by Wang and broke her serve in the seventh game. The former cricket player never looked back. Only after hitting her championship-winning volley, finally securing the title, did Barty show much emotion. She broke into a simple grin and clinched her fist, then shared a warm hug with Wang at the net.
Downs Qiang, 6-3, 6-4 for biggest title of her career! pic.twitter.com/KoWTUfd1rB
— WTA (@WTA) 4. November 2018
“I know that whenever I have played Q in the past, it’s always been an extremely tough match,” said Barty afterward. “There’s a tendency to have long games, whether they’re return or service games. It’s kind of grind out those games.
“It was nice to get off to a quick start. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to consolidate that in the first. I didn’t do too much wrong. It was just a little bit of execution, missing by a couple of feet here and there. But in the end, very happy to get out with the win and going home a very happy girl.”
Throughout, Barty remained steady by winning 62 percent (37 of 60) of her service points and 48 percent (30 of 63) on her return opportunities. She broke Wang four times and was only broken twice. Barty outpointed Wang 67-56.
Barty praised Wang’s work ethic during her post-match remarks. “You know you are always in for a very physical battle,” she said. “She makes you work for every single point, no matter what the score is. I knew that I had to be ready and play every point on its merits regardless of what the score was.”
During the trophy presentation, Wang, 26, remained poised in defeat. She said, “You should have a strong mind and believe in yourself that ‘I can do it no matter if I’m winning or losing.’ I’m clear about my next goal, and I’ll surely fight for that next season.”
The 22-year-old Barty’s title victory at Zhuhai was the third of her career and second this year after winning at Nottingham in June. She completes 2018 ranked No. 15, her highest year-end finish, and follows her No. 17 ranking a year ago. The 22nd-ranked Wang, who less than six months ago was ranked No. 91, reached four WTA finals this year and won titles in Nanchang and Guangzhou. She will break into the Top 20 for the first time at No. 20, becoming the first Chinese player to end a season ranked that high since Li Na in 2014.
Looking back, Barty said, “It’s been a really, really amazing year. Now, we get to go home to celebrate that and then prepare for bigger and better things in 2019, starting with the Australian summer.”
WTA Elite Trophy notes
• Twenty-six-year-old twin sisters Lyudmyla and Nadiia Kichenok, both of Ukraine, won their third title together as they defeated the fourth-seeded Shuko Aoyama of Japan and Lidziya Marozava of Belarus, 6-4, 3-6, 10-7, in the doubles final. “I hope we can keep it going next year,” said Nadiia of her third-seeded team’s victory. “It was a great tournament for us and we’re just extremely happy.”
• On Saturday morning, Chinese No. 1 Wang Qiang thought her season was over. Instead, Wang replaced injured Madison Keys of the U.S., and promptly went out and beat Garbiñe Muguruza, 6-2, 6-0, to advance to the finals. “My agent sent me a message to me around 4:30 p.m. She said, ‘You have to play tonight.’ I was surprised. ‘Really?’ And then I didn’t think about the scores – even the match. I just wanted to keep going.”
• According to the WTA Insider, here’s the rule explanation that elevated Wang into the semifinals instead of awarding Muguruza a walk-over win into the finals after Keys withdrew because of injury: “In a round-robin format like the WTA Finals or the WTA Elite Trophy, the second place finishers from each group stay on-site as semifinal alternates until the first place finisher takes the court.”
• During a press conference after her semifinal win, Barty was asked how she would describe herself for someone who hadn’t seen her play before. She said, “I’d describe myself as a player that plays with variety. I like to play with freedom and enjoy my tennis and bring as many shots into the game as possible. That’s what my coach taught me right from when I was five-years-old. That’s what I continue to try and do and develop as I’m getting older and player more on the tour.”