Ashleigh Barty showed terrific composure that gave her a leg up at the WTA Finals Sunday. The world No. 1 overcame a battle with Belinda Bencic in the opening set to win 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 in round-robin play of the Red Group at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center.
Both played their first WTA finals having gathered a lot of momentum this season. The Australian won the French Open and became world number one doing so. Bencic edged Kiki Bertens for the eighth spot after winning the Kremlin Cup last week that marked her second title of 2019. While this was the first matchup between the two, getting a victory in this stage of the tournament would prove to be an important stepping point to beginning the week.
Barty had a comfortable service to start the match and fought for the break when Bencic double-faulted. The Swiss regrouped to hold her service game but left her vulnerability exposed. The Aussie held firm again in the third with Bencic following suit with only one point lost in the fourth.
The two continued to hold serve with good rhythms, court positioning and at times, net-front presence. It remained a servers duel till the ninth when Barty made it 5-4, intent on breaking for the set. Bencic wouldn’t let that happen as she planned to force Barty to go the distance. Before that could occur, a chance for the Swiss came in the 11th on deuce where she clinched her only breakpoint of the match.
Serving for the set, Bencic reached two points in the 12th launching an ace to end 49 minutes. It was the fifth put against Barty who struggled with unforced errors, causing her to sit in a hole as the world number one.
A change for the Australian arrived early after scoring a serve to love to open the second set. She had two break points on Bencic but watched them disappear with the Swiss rallying back. Despite her incredible depth and the chance for a smash that forced deuce, she double-faulted giving Barty another breakpoint that she held on to. With the 2-0 lead, Barty found her chance to dictate her own, and reach 3-0. Barty had Bencic in submission rallying to yet another hold in the fifth.
The 22-year-old called down her father and coach to try to avoid committing her second shutout of the season. Getting on the board, Bencic held the sixth game but knew that a comeback was slim. She fought to press another break to her name but Barty's aces that shut down Bencic’s efforts to end the set in 32 minutes. She had five in the set and lowered her unforced errors too in comparison to the first set.
During the break, the Swiss star called out the trainer to evaluate an issue she was having with her left foot. A medical timeout saw her receive tape to alleviate the pain and continue the match going into the decider. She held to open the third with Barty on her tail, allowing one point to the Swiss. The Australian went for the break in the third, getting it on a bad return into the net from the 22-year-old that forced groans from the crowd in attendance. The next two games made it 4-1 for Barty who had the Swiss star in trouble.
With a double break in hand, the Australian consolidated with a hold in the sixth, leaving Bencic with one more chance to serve for an extension. Forcing errors from Barty gave the Swiss player a second win in the third set but knew the result was only an eventuality for her opponent. Barty served for the match in the eighth, letting one match point get away befor closing out her day on court with a 10th ace to win the match in an hour and 56-minutes.