ZHUHAI, November 2, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Caroline Garcia merely needed a straight set victory over Aryna Sabalenka in the final match of the Orchid Group in the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai on Friday afternoon. However, the Frenchwoman also needed to lose less than seven games to advance to the semifinals.
Talk about pressure.
Despite ending her season on a winning note with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over the third-seeded Sabalenka, it was Ash Barty – not Garcia – who moved on to Saturday’s last four from the Orchid Group. Garcia, Sabalenka and Barty all finished group play 1-1. However, the Australian advanced as a result of her head-to-head victory over the eighth-seeded Garcia on Wednesday, plus a better win-loss record (20-19) in total games played. The tie-breaker placed the ninth-seeded Barty into the semifinals at Zhuhai for a second consecutive year.
Behind 6-4, 5-3, Sabalenka held her serve for her eighth game win, which eliminated Garcia’s chances of advancing. Sabalenka, who beat Garcia earlier during the 2018 season in Cincinnati and Beijing, would have advanced if she had won a set. However, Garcia faced greater pressure by needing to both win in straight sets while also not conceding more than seven games. Although she was unable to pull it off, in the end, Garcia felt good about her effort.
“Today’s win is positive to me to finish the year,” said Garcia, smiling during her post-match press conference. “My game is still there. I am able to play a good level of tennis. I want to keep fighting and continue practicing in the offseason.”
Meanwhile, seventh-seeded Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain came from a set down and saved three match points en route to a 6-7 (4), 6-2, 7-6 (1) victory over second-seeded Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia in a winner-take-all battle in the Camellia Group. A semifinalist last year, Sevastova served for the match at 5-4 in the final set, but Muguruza battled back from down 15-40 and turned the match around in her favor. She dominated the tie-break by jumping out to a 6-1 advantage, then closed it out on her first match-point opportunity.
— WTA (@WTA) 2. November 2018
On court after the match, Muguruza reflected on what her victory and advancement to the semifinals meant to her at the end of a long season. “These matches are the ones that really count. It’s long, it’s difficult,” she said. “You have match points against, you don’t lose the courage, you don’t lose the enthusiasm. It worked today.
“I’m here to play good matches. I know tomorrow, it’ll be a tough battle, but I’m sure this match will give me a lot of confidence.”
Finally, sixth-seeded Madison Keys of the U.S. came into her Azalea Group match knowing she would advance automatically if she beat 11th-seeded Wang Qiang of China in straight sets. It didn’t happen. Instead, Wang, the top-ranked Chinese player at No. 22, came back from losing the first set and strung together six straight winning games at the end of the second and start of the third sets – breaking Keys’s serve three times – en route to her upset win. However, despite Wang’s 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory, Keys completed her task of advancing out of her group on a tie-break procedure decided by most sets won after she, top-seeded Daria Kasatkina of Russia and Wang all finished 1-1.
So, in a dramatic final day of group play, defined by the smallest of margins, the semifinal foursome is set: Barty will face defending champion Julia Goerges in the first seminal while Keys and Muguruza face off in the second semifinal.
WTA Elite Trophy notes
• Saturday’s semifinals are scheduled for not before 4:30 p.m. local time (8:30 a.m. GMT) and not before 7 p.m. (11 a.m. GMT).
• Defending champion Julia Goerges of Germany, seeded fifth this year, already wrapped up a berth in the semifinals by winning the Rose Group on Thursday. On Friday, she celebrated her 30th birthday.