Bertens Holds Off Yastremska At WTA Elite Trophy

Kiki Bertens (photo: WTA Elite Trophy)

ZHUHAI, October 24, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Top seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands fought off a surging No. 10 seed Dayana Yastremska to emerge as the first semifinalist in the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, China.

The 10th-ranked Bertens defeated the 19-year-old Yastremska from Ukraine, 6-4, 6-3, in one hour and 26 minutes on Thursday. Bertens, who won titles earlier this season in St. Petersburg and Madrid, took advantage of five service breaks, including the final game of the match when the 24th-ranked Yastremska committed her fifth double fault on match point.

With Bertens and Yastremska having already beaten No. 8 seed Donna Vekic of Croatia, both in straight sets earlier this week, the final round-robin match in the Azalea Group became winner-takes-all, and it was Bertens who rose to the occasion and will play on into the weekend.

Since the US Open, Bertens has competed in seven tournaments across two continents, reaching the semifinals in Beijing and quarterfinals in Linz and Moscow. She said after her win against Yastremska that she was “just really proud and happy” that she has held up physically.

“I feel like my body’s falling apart,” Bertens said, laughing at the thought, as quoted by the WTA Tour website. “But I think every match I’m just like, ‘OK, maybe this is your last match of the season – so just give everything,’ and that’s what I did.”

Meanwhile, Americans Alison Riske and Madison Keys each needed to win their respective group matches on Thursday in order to maintain any hopes of reaching the semifinal round.

First, No. 3 seed Keys rebounded from her opening loss to No. 12 seed Zheng Saisai to defeat No. 5 seed Petra Martic of Croatia, 6-3, 6-4, needing four match points to close out the 70 minute victory. However, her hopes to reach the semifinals are slim – resting on the outcome of Friday’s match between the wild card Zheng from China and Martic – and neither scenario looks promising for Keys. Zheng needs to only win seven games – even if she loses – to finish on top of the group, while Martic will need to win and concede six games or fewer. It means that Keys can finish second in the Orchid Group at best.

“I think I served a lot better today,”  said Keys, who hit three aces and won 74 percent of her first-serve points. “I think in the first match I made a lot of unforced errors pretty early in points; today I felt I did a much better job of setting points up. Even if I didn’t win the point, at least constructing them better. If this was my last match, then I think it’s a good one to end on … definitely not mad that this is how I finished the year.”

Later, Riske was eliminated from the Camellia Group as No.11 seed Karolina Muchova beat her 2-6, 6-2, 7-5. The Czech was the last to qualify for Zhuhai after reaching the semifinals at last week’s VTB Kremlin Cup in Moscow. Muchova came from a break down twice during her one hour and 58 minute match against the American from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On Wednesday, Riske lost to No. 2 seed Sofia Kenin of the United States, 6-4, 6-4.

“The last few days, I was mostly traveling here,” said Muchova. “So, I came late. I didn’t come very prepared as I would wish I am, but it’s how it is and I just try to make the best of it.”

In the battle between Wimbledon quarterfinalists, Muchova was broken by Riske in the opening game of the final set and came from 3-1 down in the deciding set to keep her hopes of qualifying for the semifinal round alive.

“I won today a very, very tough match. I was struggling from the start, but happy with the win,” said Muchova, who will face the 12th-ranked Kenin on Friday, with the winner advancing to Saturday’s semifinals.

“I feel very good, and it was physically very tough … and we just tried to make everything like that I will feel good or best as possible tomorrow for another match.”

Asked if she can beat Kenin, the 36th-ranked Muchova said: “She is a good player, so I will have to play very good and consistent tomorrow. I don’t think I should change any specific thing, I’ll just play my game.”

Elite Trophy notes

• On Friday, No. 4 seed Aryna Sabalenka opposes her doubles partner, No. 6 seed Elise Mertens, to decide the winner of the Rose Group. Mertens of Belgium owns a 2-1 career head-to-head advantage against Sabalenka from Belarus, all played in 2018. Meanwhile, the outcome of the Kenin-Muchova match will determine the Camellia Group and the Zheng-Martic match will decide the Orchid Group.

Kenin needs to win just one set against Muchova to top the Camellia Group standings and advance, while Muchova must win in straight sets win to finish ahead of Kenin.

• Regardless of who reaches the last four, each would be a first-time semifinalist in Zhuhai.

What they’re saying

Madison Keys on her 2019 season: “Overall, I think it was a pretty good year. I had a little bit of a rough start to the year and from then on I think I have done a pretty good job. Obviously had some disappointing losses here or there, but first time I won two tournaments in a season (Charleston, Cincinnati), so lots of highs, lots of things to be really happy about and lots to build on and hopefully do better next year.”