Karolina Pliskova beat Simona Halep 6-0, 2-6, 6-4 in Shenzhen and will face world No 1 Ashleigh Barty in the semi-finals of the WTA Finals

Karolina Pliskova is not immediately known for her competitive fire but on Friday she battled hard and finally defeated Simona Halep 6-0, 2-6, 6-4 in a dramatic thriller to complete the round robin stage of the WTA Finals in Shenzhen.

Despite the spectacle of a new venue and breathtaking prize money, the WTA Finals have been shrouded by bad luck and the effects of the relentless 11-month season. Between Tuesday and Thursday Naomi Osaka, Bianca Andreescu and Kiki Bertens, the latter drafted in to replace Osaka, all departed the tournament on consecutive days due to injury, either retiring from their matches or withdrawing from the tournament outright.

Even for those unburdened by injuries the holidays cannot come soon enough. Pliskova has been one of the most consistent players throughout the season and she arrived in Shenzhen ranked No 2 in the world, with four titles and a 50-15 win-loss record. But in her first two showings Pliskova fell in straight sets to Elina Svitolina then struggled for much of her set against the injured Andreescu. Another long season seemed to have left its mark.

Expectations were low as Pliskova and Halep entered Centre Court but Pliskova stepped up and produced a breathless set of attacking tennis, obliterating Halep 6-0 with 11 winners and only three unforced errors. Halep responded by showing her fortitude, breaking in the opening game of the second set and rising to the high bar Pliskova set. Throughout the second set she soaked up Pliskovas power and punched back whenever she could, taking it 6-2.

Halep converted her momentum into a 2-0 lead in the decider but Pliskova responded by winning three consecutive games. Haleps coach, Darren Cahill, marched on to the court and blasted his stroppy charge: The last three games youve been an absolute disgrace on the court.

He implored her to recover and find her game but she could not. She lost her serve and, although she broke Pliskova as the Czech served for the match at 5-3, it was too late. Pliskova had come to fight and she broke Haleps serve to take the match.

Elina Svitolinas earlier 7-5, 7-6 (10) victory over Sofia Kenin means that Svitolina faces Belinda Bencic in the first of Saturdays semi-final, before the world No 1, Ashleigh Barty, takes on Pliskova. Even beyond the injured players, those who have played have not looked great. Barty produced perhaps the worst hour of play in 2019 during her collapse against Bertens, while Bencic just about edged out an injured Bertens before the Dutchwoman retired while trailing 7-5.

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As her rivals have struggled, Svitolina has soared. Much of the discourse in Shenzhen has circled around its slow, abrasive court that rewards more defensive tennis and is difficult to hit through. Svitolina has been the one player to use it to her advantage, erecting a wall on her baseline by chasing down every last ball and challenging her opponents to find a way past.

Although Svitolina tends to fall under the radar, all eyes will be on her this weekend. She is now on a nine-match winning streak. While the other three semi-finalists have each lost a match, the Ukrainian has not dropped a set. She remains the only player with a chance of winning the 1,400 points and $4.75m prize money reserved for an unbeaten champion. The big question in Shenzhen will be whether anyone in the world still has the energy, patience and weapons to hit through a player who refuses to miss.

Elsewhere Kyle Edmunds resurgence at the Paris Masters, where he defeated the 14th seed, Diego Schwartzman, before losing to Novak Djokovic in the third round, was enough for the GB Davis Cup captain, Leon Smith, to name him as the fifth and final member of the team at the revamped finals this month. He will join Andy Murray, Dan Evans, Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski in Madrid.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us


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