In A Day Of Surprises, Barty And Wang Advance To WTA Elite Trophy Final

Ashleigh Barty (photo: WTA Elite Trophy)

ZHUHAI, November 3, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)

Ash Barty garnered her first career victory over Julia Goerges – and what better time for it to happen than now. The ninth-seeded Australian advanced to the biggest final of her career at the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, China. Barty defeated the defending champion Goerges, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, on Saturday.

Barty will face 11th-seeded Wang Qiang of China, who moved into the semifinals as a last-minute replacement after Azalea Group winner Madison Keys withdrew due to a knee injury. The Chinese No. 1 promptly dismantled seventh-seeded Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, 6-2, 6-0, in just 71 minutes.

In Saturday’s first semifinal, down a set and a break to the 14th-ranked Goerges, Barty rallied against the fifth-seeded German by relying upon a combination of hustle, grit and determination. As the match wore on, she forced Goerges into playing flawless tennis. It didn’t happen.

Barty, who won the final three games of the match and outpointed Goerges 89-72, hit 36 winners and forced her opponent into committing 29 unforced errors. She won 59 points on short rallies under five shots against 44 for Goerges and converted four of eight break-point opportunities.

Barty’s eighth service ace set up match point. Then, she wrapped up the 1-hour and 47-minute semifinal when Goerges hit a forehand return wide of its mark. The two friends shared a warm embrace at the net. Then, as Goerges walked off the court to polite applause from the Zhuhai crowd, the 19th-ranked Barty stayed behind to give an on-court interview.

“It’s very tough playing a good friend, but I’m extremely happy to be moving on to the finals,” said Barty following her victory. “A little bit of a tactical change helped me get through the second and third sets.”

Reminded by the interviewer that she was a semifinalist last year and moved a step further into the finals this year, Barty said, “It’s really exciting to finish the year – an amazing year we’ve had – to have one more opportunity to play a tennis match, and hopefully come away with a title. It’s very exciting for me.”

Later, during her post-match press conference, Barty was all smiles. “It’s certainly nice to get better as the match goes on, but also saying that you’d like to be pretty good right from the get-go,” she said. “There’s always room to improve, adjust, try and find a way to get yourself into the match.”

Goerges was reflective following her final match of 2018. She said, “I think it’s better that I look back to the season, finish the chapter, then go on from there. It’s a big thing to look back what I’ve achieved this year and think of it with team to improve for next year.”

Wang delights home crowd

Meanwhile, in the second semifinal, Wang became the first Chinese to reach the WTA Elite Trophy final after her comprehensive win over Muguruza. Given a second opportunity at the semifinals following the withdrawal of Keys, Wang won the final 11 games against Muguruza. She played aggressively from the outset against the two-time Grand Slam champion, who became visibly frustrated as the match wore on.

After going ahead 3-2 in the opening set, following an 11-minute fifth game in which she converted her third break-point opportunity, it was full-speed ahead for Wang. She finished with seven service aces, won 85 percent (22 of 26) of her first-serve points, and broke Muguruza’s serve five times. Wang outpointed Muguruza 65-36.

Through an interpreter, Wang expressed joy during her on-court interview that followed her semifinal victory. She said, “It was a carefree win. I felt no pressure at all. I gave it my all and that’s why I won.”

Later, during a post-match video that the WTA shared on its Twitter page, speaking English, Wang said it was a surprise to play. “I’m really happy to win today. I will try my best tomorrow.”

WTA Elite Trophy notes

• According the WTA Insider, “Wang Qiang had her bags all packed up ready to head to her vacation tomorrow morning when she got a text message from her agent telling her she was into the semifinals. Her reaction: ‘Really?’ So she got up off the massage table and went to the courts.”

• Wang’s semifinal victory extended what has been an impressive 2018 for her on her home soil. She’s won 19 of 23 matches, including lifting trophies at Nanchang and Guangzhou and reaching the semifinals at Wuhan and Beijing. By reaching the WTA Elite Trophy final, the 22nd-ranked will finish the season ranked inside the Top 20.

• During her post-match press conference, Muguruza was philosophical in defeat. “It’s always tough because it is a battle. I felt a little tired of course, but it was just my body. I was actually excited and ready to fight. Wang was playing incredible shots today.”

• On Sunday, Barty and Wang will meet for the second time in their career. Earlier this year, Barty beat Wang in the quarterfinals at Strasbourg, 7-5, 6-4.

• Sunday’s singles final between Barty and Wang is scheduled for not before 4 p.m. local time (8 a.m. GMT). It will be preceded by the doubles final between No. 3 seeds Lyudmyla Kichenok and Nadiia Kichenok, both of Ukraine, versus No. 4 seeds Shuai Aoyama of Japan and Lidziya Marozava of Belarus at 1:30 p.m. (5:30 a.m. GMT).