SHENZHEN, November 3, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
With the largest prize check in professional tennis – men’s or women’s – awaiting the winner of the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, the showdown between defending champion Elina Svitolina of Ukraine and World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty from Australia took on a festive tone Sunday evening before a packed audience that filled Shenzhen Bay Tennis Centre.
The culmination of a remarkable 2019 WTA season, one which saw four different Grand Slam champions crowned but also provided an embarrassing number of injuries and retirements during its showcase week, the WTA Finals crown was won by the top-seeded Barty. The affable Aussie defeated Svitolina, 6-4, 6-3, in one hour and 27 minutes. After serving out the match at love, Barty bent down and let out a celebratory scream of joy. Then, after shaking hands with Svitolina at the net, she went over to celebrate with her coach Craig Tyzzer and the rest of her team.
For the second straight year, Barty ended her season by winning her last match. In 2018, she completed a title run at the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai. This year, by winning the WTA Finals, it resulted in her fourth title victory of 2019. Barty received $4.42 million in prize money for winning.
— WTA (@WTA) November 3, 2019
“It’s been the most incredible year for me,” said Barty after lifting the Billie Jean King Trophy during the awards presentation. “It’s an incredible new era of women’s tennis. I’m a very lucky girl.”
In five previous head-to-heads, all won by Svitolina, Barty had only been able to win two sets off the Ukrainian star. Before the WTA Finals, the closest Barty came was when she lost 7-6 (8), 5-7, 6-4 in the fourth round at Indian Wells in March. However, this would change for Barty on Sunday.
“It took a few days to get over,” the 23-year-old Barty recalled in an interview with the WTA Insider before the final. “I felt like in that match, over the course of three sets, I did a better job of playing the way that I wanted to play. It was just missed opportunities.
“The bonus is I get another chance to try to rectify that as best that I can.”
This time, Barty exuded a sense of comfort and confidence – never getting down on herself – and went about her business of doing something out of the ordinary against Svitolina, who came into the final on a 10-match WTA Finals winning streak but was still looking to win her first WTA title of the season.
“I have an opportunity to try something different,” Barty suggested. “I have an opportunity to go out in the match and try something because previously what we’ve done hasn’t quite worked or I haven’t executed well enough over a long enough period to be effective.
“It’s always an extremely tough match against Elina. She’s an incredible opponent, knows how to win on the biggest stage.”
On serve at 4-all at the start of the final on the WTA’s biggest stage, Svitolina earned her first break-point of the match. But Barty hustled to save it. Then, the Aussie held serve with solid play at the net that ended with her putting away a forehand volley off a Svitolina pass. Finally, Barty won the set with a ripping forehand winner – her 19th of the match – down the line on her third set-point opportunity. Throughout the 45-minute opener, Barty’s attacking demeanor kept Svitolina away from the net and in a defensive posture. It would stay like through much of the rest of the final.
In the second set, Svitolina finally broke through, thanks to a double fault by Barty, to lead 2-1. But it was short lived as Barty rallied corner-to-corner and got the break back with an overhead winner to level the set. A quick hold at love put Barty back in front at 3-2. It prompted Svitolina’s coach, Andy Bettles, to visit his pupil during the changeover to offer reassurance and discuss tactics.
Then, Svitolina’s first double fault came at a most inopportune time – on a break point – and it gave Barty her second break of the match to push ahead 4-2, two games from the finish line. However, Svitolina broke back when Barty double-faulted at 30-30 and hit an unforced error on a backhand pass. But Barty broke right back on her third break-point chance when Svitolina hit wide going after an off-balance down-the-line backhand. At last, with victory in her reach, Barty closed out the win with a love hold to win capture the season-ending championship.
Barty outpointed Svitolina 69-56, won 65 percent (39 of 60) of her service points and 46 percent (30 of 65) of her returns. She broke Svitolina four times in eight tries. It was a dominating performance by the Australian.
Looking back, it’s been a season gone well for Barty, that she described in her own words as “magical.” She’s already secured the year-end No. 1 ranking, won her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros, and now becomes the first Australian woman to hold the year-end top spot in WTA history.
With her WTA Finals title secured, Barty ends the year with her 56th win of the season – most on tour this season. She’s also the first No. 1 and reigning major champion to win the WTA Finals title since Serena Williams in 2014.
“To cap it off with a chance to win another title is really exciting,” said Barty, who will return home to Australia and prep for next weekend’s Fed Cup final against France in Perth.
Babos, Mladenovic successfully defend doubles crown
Timea Babos of Hungary and Kristina Mladenovic from France became the first team to successfully defend their WTA Finals doubles title in 11 years. In a battle between the reigning champions of the French Open and Wimbledon, the No. 3 seeds Babos and Mladenovic defeated the No. 2 seeds Hsieh Su-wei from Taiwan and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic, 6-1, 6-3 in 65 minutes to lift the Martina Navratilova Doubles Trophy.
Babos and Mladenovic won all but four points on their serve and broke Hsieh and Strycova three times. The Franco-Hungarian pair closed out the championship with a love hold and a service winner.
Babos and Mladenovic went undefeated this week en route to becoming the first back-to-back champions at the WTA Finals since Cara Black and Liezel Huber in 2007-08. Babos, who teamed in 2017 with Andrea Sestini Hlavackova, has won three consecutive year-end doubles titles.
By the numbers
• Coming in, Elina Svitolina sought to become the seventh player to successfully defend a WTA Finals title, following Chris Evert (1972-73), Martina Navratilova (who defended the title five times between 1979 and 1986), Monica Seles (1990-92), Stefanie Graf (1995-96), Kim Clijsters (2002-03), Justine Henin (2006-07) and Serena Williams (2012-14). She already had three successful title defenses on the WTA Tour: Baku 2013-14, Dubai (2017-18) and Rome (2017-18).
• By winning Sunday, Ashleigh Barty became the fifth player to lift the WTA Finals trophy in her debut at the season-ending tournament and the first Australian since Evonne Goolagong Cawley won it twice in 1974 and 1976.
What they’re saying
Elina Svitolina was asked by the WTA Insider about the motivation of playing for the biggest prize money in tennis at the WTA Finals: “Well, for sure it’s big motivation for everyone. The prize money been raised. We all aware about that. I think first of all it’s amazing for women’s tennis in general. We are moving the right direction.
“Yeah, it’s amazing to have these kind of events, the first time in any sport. That’s a huge step for us. Definitely very, very proud that it’s in tennis and that we are part of it.”