What looked to be a fight to the distance abruptly concluded at the WTA Finals on Thursday. Kiki Bertens, who made the tournament as an alternate, gave into physical pain after one set that sent Belinda Bencic into the semifinals. A tight first set in Red Group round-robin play went 7-5 in Bencic's favour at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center before the Dutch star couldn’t endure playing any longer.
The two met for the fourth time and by sheer luck, as the Dutchwoman moved in taking Naomi Osaka’s place in the tournament. The Japanese star’s injury gave the world number ten a chance to win the season’s last title after she lost a close one to Aryna Sabalenka last week at the WTA Elite Trophy tournament.
Her victory over Ashleigh Barty on Tuesday put her in a spot to make the semifinals as an alternate. No such player has gone on to win it all, but with her recent victory, the odds were in favour of the 27-year-old. A late victory for Bencic against Petra Kvitova set up the efforts of all four athletes to continue playing. A victory for either one would enter them into the semifinals this weekend.
The two held through four games just before Bertens broke the Swiss in the fifth game. Bencic tried but couldn’t get into position for the break and fought to extend the set in the ninth game with Bertens up 5-3.
The Swiss held to give the Dutch star a chance to finish the first set herself. The 22-year-old responded with a heavy attack from her forehand return that beat the 27-year-old and made the score five-all. An impressive turnaround gave Bencic a third consecutive game, putting her in place to play for the set.
Bertens called down her coach Elise Tamaela to help her figure out how to contain the serve and force the tie-break. Taking too many chances with lob shots cost Bertens the set as her last shot was challenged by Bencic, who was sure it went long. Hawkeye confirmed the challenge that gave the Swiss the match lead after 55 minutes.
A fifth straight game for Bencic started the second set, but before she could continue, Bertens called the physio due to shoulder and back pains that made it difficult for her to bend. After an evaluation, the Dutch star called it quits to give Bencic the victory.