Defending Champion Goerges Advances To Last Four At WTA Elite Trophy

Julia Goerges (photo: WTA Elite Trophy)

ZHUHAI, November 1, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)

Defending champion Julia Goerges of Germany rallied from a break down in the second set to beat Elise Mertens of Belgium, 6-2, 7-6 (5), and secure a place in the semifinals of the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai on Thursday.

After the fifth-seeded Goerges lost to No. 10 Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in three sets on Wednesday, the German needed to win her match against Mertens in two sets to finish first in the Rose Group. If Mertens had won a set, she – and not Goerges – would have qualified from her group.

“I knew what I had to do today to win in straight sets,” said Goerges, 29, speaking after her win with the media. “I played to win. That’s how I’ve grown up and that’s my mentality. If I miss, I miss, but it’s up to me and not everyone else.

“I think with my performance today, I gave myself the best birthday present I could ask for tomorrow.”

The fourth-seeded Mertens led 5-4 (30-15) as she served for the second set. Later, she saved three match points while serving at 5-6 (0-40). However, it wasn’t meant to be for the top-ranked Belgian, who finished second in the Rose Group.

Earlier, Ash Barty of Australia remained alive in the Orchid Group as she defeated Caroline Garcia of France, 6-3, 6-4, to improve to 1-1 in group play and 2-2 in sets played. The ninth-seeded Barty needed to win in straight sets against Garcia, seeded eighth, to keep her hopes alive after losing her opening match to No. 3 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus on Tuesday.

“I looked after my service games, and was able to make a lot of returns and put a lot of pressure on Caroline’s service games,” said Barty during her post-match press conference. “I think (I went) out there with a bit of freedom. I was in a bit of a win-win situation. I go out there and can play well, play with freedom. If I lose, I go home and it’s the end of the season. I could go out there and just kind of play my style.”

Barty broke Garcia in the fourth game of the opening set and in the third game of the final set, which was the difference maker. The Australian No. 1, who faced no break points during the one hour and 16 minute match, won 79 percent of her first-serve points and backed it with a 70-percent efficiency on her second serve.

“It was a very difficult match for me today,” said Garcia, who has been dealing with a back injury since Tianjin last month, and struggled to find her rhythm against Barty. “I didn’t have the rhythm I wanted, plus the back pain. I’ll try my best to improve and do something tomorrow.”

Said Barty: “It’s out of my hands. I think we’ve had an amazing season, and a really nice end to the season to be able to come away with a win today.

“I’ll just have to sit back and watch tomorrow and worry about whether we’re here for an extra day or not. I’m certainly pleased with the year that we’ve had and really nice to finish on a positive note today.”

In the evening’s final match, second-seeded Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia defeated 12th-seeded wild card Zhang Shuai of China, 6-0, 7-6 (10), in the Camellia Group. The group winner will be decided by the winner of Friday’s match between Sevastova and seventh-seeded Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain.

Sevastova was nearly untouchable in the the first set against Zhang as she won three consecutive love games on her racquet. She didn’t drop a game until Zhang won the opening game of the second set. The victory was the Latvian’s 43rd WTA main draw win of the year.

“I really didn’t think I would start so well,” said Sevastova following her first match in Zhuhai. “In the first set, (Zhang) gave me a lot of points. In the second, it should have been over at 5-3, I think. At 5-4, I should have served it out. At 6-5, I think I let her in. It was my mistake. I was not concentrated. I was not focused. I was lucky that I escaped in the second set in a tie-break.”

WTA Elite Trophy notes

• With one match remaining in the Azalea Group on Friday, sixth-seeded Madison Keys of the U.S. knows that if she wins in two sets against Wang Qiang of China, she qualifies for the weekend semifinals. If Keys succeeds, top seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia will finish second in the group. However, if Keys wins in three sets, or the 11th-seeded Wang wins, then the order of the group will be either one of them in first or second – based on the number of sets – and Kasatkina will place third.

• On Wednesday, Keys commented on not being selected for the U.S. Fed Cup team that will oppose the Czech Republic next week in the 2018 Fed Cup Finals in Prague. She said she spoke with U.S. Fed Cup captain Kathy Rinaldi and wasn’t sure how her knee would hold up after this week’s WTA Elite Trophy competition. “I didn’t want to be a liability and have her put me on the team and then me show up and not be able to hit for three days. I talked to her about it and I was super honest.”

• Before Thursday, Barty and Garcia had faced each other only once before – in the 2018 Wuhan final, won by Garcia, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4), 6-2. Meanwhile, this was the first meeting between Sevastova and Zhang not played on clay. Sevastova won the most recent one, last year in Madrid, 6-2, 6-4.

• From the WTA Insider – “@juliagoerges gave herself the perfect present for her 30th birthday tomorrow: the day off. She says she plans to celebrate with a nice dinner with Daria Kasatkina.” Goerges’ nickname among Chinese fans is “Gege,” which translates to “the daughter of the king, princess.”

• Quotable from Barty, who qualified for both year-end WTA championships for the second straight year: “I try my best to play in the correct manner, with sportsmanship, competing, and then obviously with a little bit of flare as well. … It is very kind that a few people in the world like watching me play. It’s certainly fun playing.”