Bertens blows WTA Finals wide open

Published by AAP

Kiki Bertens celebrates during her defeat of world No.1 Ash Barty at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen. (Getty Images)
Replacing injured Naomi Osaka, alternate Kiki Bertens recovers from a set and a break down to stun world No.1 Ash Barty — leaving the Red Group standings finely poised.

All four players in the WTA Finals Red Group remain in contention for the semifinals after night of drama at the season-ending championships.

Late entry Kiki Bertens turned the tournament upside down with an improbable victory over world No.1 Ash Barty on Tuesday.

Bertens arrived at the elite tournament as an alternate but has suddenly jumped into title contention after replacing the injured Naomi Osaka and taking down a misfiring Barty 3-6 6-3 6-4.

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Belinda Bencic’s 6-3 1-6 6-4 win over Petra Kvitova in Tuesday night’s second match in Shenzhen blew the Red Group wide open with all four players in the mix for a semifinal berth.

Officials were frantically working through the permutations as Barty, with a 1-1 record after her first two group encounters, Bencic (1-1), Bertens (1-0) and Kvitova (0-2) all with a chance depending on Thursday night’s final Red Group match-ups.

Barty plays Kvitova and Bertens faces Bencic with the two winners likely to progress – but not necessarily. Countbacks of sets won and lost are likely to be needed to decide the final standings.

No alternate has ever won more than one match at the season-ending championships, let alone reached the semifinals.

Incredibly, though, Bertens could yet top the group despite playing only twice compared to her rivals’ three outings each.

“I’m a little bit lucky to get in. Unfortunate for Naomi, of course. I just take her spot, try to perform as good as I can, try to give all the energy what’s left in me,” Bertens said.

“Yeah, I just beat the world No.1 so it’s just a really good feeling.”

Runner-up to Aryna Sabalenka in the Elite Trophy final on Sunday, Bertens had lost all four previous meetings with Barty but made the most of her unexpected call-up despite being given only three hours’ notice.

Last year, Bertens reached the semifinals in her WTA Finals debut in Singapore, bowing to defending champion Elina Svitolina.

But this year’s looked like being a short-lived campaign when Barty led by a set and 3-2 before Australia’s top seed went badly off the boil, losing eight games – and then the match.

Despite the defeat, Barty officially clinched the year-end world No.1 ranking and also retains control of her finals destiny.

Determining the semifinal scenarios

The top seed will top the Red Group if she beats Kvitova and could even sneak into the semis with a three-set loss.

Among myriad scenarios, the simplest for Bertens and Kvitova are that they must each win to progress to the semifinals.

Like Barty, Bencic — who recovered from a service break down in the deciding set against Kvitova — is guaranteed a spot in the last four if she beats Bertens.

The Swiss knew she was fighting for survival on her WTA Finals debut.

“I knew if I didn’t win I’m eliminated, but I didn’t think about that,” Bencic said.

“You go into a match against Kvitova and you never have anything in your hands. I don’t think we played our best but I found my game the last few games.”

Wednesday night’s Purple Group action pits defending champion Elina Svitolina against Simona Halep, who both won their openers, and Bianca Andreescu against Karolina Pliskova.

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