Barty, Svitolina advance at WTA Finals

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Belinda Bencic

Belinda Bencic of Switzerland reacts after winning the first set against Elina Svitolina of Ukraine during the WTA Finals Tennis Tournament at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center in Shenzhen, China’s Guangdong province, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

SHENZHEN, China (AP) — Top-ranked Ash Barty advanced Saturday to the final of the WTA Finals where she faces defending champion Elina Svitolina, a player she has never beaten in five previous attempts.

Barty, like Svitolina, dropped the opening set of her semifinal before beating second-ranked Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

“I felt like the whole match was an incredibly high level,” Barty said. “I’m just pleased to get another chance to play out here. It’s a match I can come out and try to enjoy. I have nothing to lose. It’s an opportunity against a really tough player.”

Belinda Bencic retired in the third set as Svitolina outlasted the injured Swiss to win 5-7, 6-3, 4-1 and reach her second straight final at the WTA Finals.

“It’s still kind of like not realizing that I’m in the final,” Svitolina said, but added “it’s tough to play someone who has been injured.”

This has been a standout season for Barty, who won her first Grand Slam title at the French Open, and attained top ranking for the first time. Barty is Australia’s first female year-end No. 1.

Barty said “it’s been an incredible year for myself and my team,” and called Sunday’s final “the perfect way to cap it off.”

She is relishing the opportunity to try and finally beat Svitolina.

“I have an opportunity to try something different,” Barty said. “Previously what we’ve done hasn’t quite worked or I haven’t executed well enough over a long enough period to be effective.”

Barty posted 11 aces to only one for Pliskova.

This marked the third consecutive year that Pliskova had advanced to the semifinals, but she’s yet to contest for the title in a final.

Bencic was already struggling before the end of the first set, which she won. Bencic later said it was a hamstring problem and cramping.

Svitolina had made it through the group stage without dropping a set. Winning the WTA Finals in Singapore last season remains the biggest title of her career.

After holding serve to lead 6-5 in the first set against Svitolina, Bencic received a medical timeout to have treatment during the changeover. Back on court, Bencic took the set on her third set point with a backhand down-the-line winner.

But the leg injury caused more problems for Bencic, allowing Svitolina to gain control of the match.

Bencic, who lost her serve in the first and ninth games of the second set, received further treatment when trailing 1-2 and 3-4 at the changeovers.

In the third set, Svitolina went ahead 3-0, and by 4-1 Bencic couldn’t continue.

Bencic said the slowness of the court hindered movement, although Svitolina appears to enjoy the surface.

“I really didn’t want to retire,” Bencic said. “I wanted to finish the match. It was not possible. I’m really disappointed about how my body failed me.

“Also, I think these courts are really not ideal.”

Naomi Osaka, the reigning Australian Open champion, withdrew ahead of her second round-robin match with a right shoulder injury.

Reigning U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu withdrew before her third round-robin match after injuring her knee in the previous match.

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