SHENZHEN, January 5, 2019
World No.13 Aryna Sabalenka’s meteoric rise to the top of women’s tennis looks set to continue this season as the hard-hitting Belarusian overcame a slow start to defeat American Alison Riske 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-3 in two hours and 11 minutes to lift her third WTA Tour career title on the hard courts of the Shenzhen Longgang Sports Centre this afternoon.
The 28-year-old Riske, playing in her third Shenzhen Open final in four years, began the match impressively, hitting decisive and accurate winners that frustrated her 20-year-old opponent, and converted the second of two break points in the third game to take a one set lead.
The 5-foot-11 Sabalenka, playing in her sixth career final and third in China, grew with confidence as the match progressed and converted her first break point in the fourth game of the second set to take a 3-1 lead.
Riske fought hard to get back in the set, saving four break points in the sixth game and two set points in the eighth before breaking her 20-year-old opponent with four points on the trot in the ninth game and holding serve to tie the match at 5-5.
However, in the tiebreak, the American lost focus and gifted her opponent a number of unforced errors to set up a third set for the title.
The momentum was now well and truly with Sabalenka, as the Belarusian broke her opponent twice in the first three games to take a 3-0 lead.
Riske, who has now gone six finals without a win, got a break of her own in the fourth game and threatened to turn the tie around when she got another break opportunity in the eighth game, but it was simply not to be her day once again.
Sabalenka squandered two match points in the final game of the encounter, before finally breaking her opponent’s serve one last time with a powerful forehand drive to lift her second title in China, following last year’s win at Wuhan.
“It was a tough match today, especially coming back after first set down. I just couldn’t find a way to beat her and she played an unbelievable match, with shots down the lines. I am so happy that I found a way to beat her, especially in the final to win my third title. It’s really special, also my second title in China. I’m so happy with this result at the start of the year,” said the Belarusian, who has an early lead in the race to the WTA Finals that will also be held in Shenzhen in October.
“Now I am first but it is only 280 points! But I really want to go on to the WTA Finals. Last year I didn’t make it there and I was so pissed. This year, I am going to do everything to get there. After this good start, hopefully I can do well at the Australian Open,” added Sabalenka.
World No.62 Riske was despondent to have now gone three finals in Shenzhen without a win, but promised to be back once again in future.
“Aryna played really well and she proved last season how good she is. In the second set, she started serving a little bit better. I still tried to be aggressive but my shots just weren’t landing in like they were in the first set. So I think that kind of flipped things a little bit and she got on top of me a little bit sooner. Everyone here is just super special and that’s why I keep coming back. The people have made it such a good tournament and place to be. I’m sorry if I let anybody down and I hope they will cheer me on for the next tournaments to come. I will certainly come back again,” said the American, who heads to Melbourne next to prepare for the Australian Open.
Peng Shuai/Yang Zhaoxuan take doubles title
In a doubles final match that featured three local Chinese stars, former world No.1 Peng Shuai proved that she was the doubles queen of Shenzhen as she picked up her second doubles title here in three years, this time with first time partner Yang Zhaoxuan.
The second seeded duo defeated the unseeded Chinese-Czech pairing of Duan Yingying and Renata Voracava 6-4, 6-3 in one hour and 14 minutes on Centre Court.
Peng and Yang got off to a shaky start as they relinquished their first service game of the match, but leveled matters in the fourth game and stole the first set with another break in the tenth game.
The second set was tightly contested early on, as the two teams exchanged two breaks each in the first six games, but the No.2 seeds kicked into high gear in the eighth game, winning eight points in a row to break their opponents and then held serve in the next game to lift the doubles trophy in Shenzhen.
The 2019 Shenzhen Open doubles title is the 22nd of 32-year-old’s Peng Shuai’s career and the fourth doubles title that 24-year-old Yang Zhaoxuan has picked up on the WTA Tour.
“We are very happy to be playing together and very happy with the results of this week. We have both helped each other out and we really enjoy playing together. We are now looking forward to play together in future. We will be playing in the Australian Open together,” said Peng after the win.