Twice this season, Kiki Bertens led Ashleigh Barty by a set before the Australian turned the tables to score three-set wins in Sydney and Miami. On Saturday, Bertens was primed to flip the script in the Beijing semifinals, but was unable to shut the door when the match was on her racquet.
With each holding match point on their serve in the deciding tiebreaker, the world No. 1 once again had the last word in toppling the Dutchwoman, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7), in two hours and 20 minutes at the China Open.
“I always have incredible matches with Kiki. We always play at a high level and today was no different. It was a very, very good match,” Barty said on-court afterwards.
Earlier in the third set at 5-4, Bertens first served for the match. At deuce, Barty made her opponent pay for not putting away a forehand volley by curling a forehand passing shot into the open court. That gave Barty new life and was the pre-cursor to a thrilling finish.
Barty was the first to earn a match point in the tiebreaker after striking an inside out forehand winner, but Bertens immediately matched her with a gutsy mirror-image shot of her own. Serving at 7-6, Bertens charged off a backhand slice but was outmaneuvered by Barty on the baseline. The top seed would win the last three points to eke out the victory.
The winner of three titles this season, which included hoisting her first major trophy at the French Open, Barty has greatly bolstered her case to finish as the year-end No. 1 with her run to the championship match. The 23-year-old now leads No. 2 Karolina Pliskova by 1161 points in the Porsche Race to Shenzhen.
In the final, Barty will meet Naomi Osaka, who brushed aside defending champion Caroline Wozniacki, 6-4, 6-2. Osaka saved all seven break points she faced to notch her first win in three tries over Wozniacki.
The 21-year-old has won her past nine matches, having tasted victory on home soil two weeks ago in Osaka. The two-time major winner has dropped just one set during the run, to US Open champion Bianca Andreescu in Friday's quarterfinals. Osaka has split her two previous tour-level meetings with Barty.