Two weeks ago, Belinda Bencic trailed Kiki Bertens in the final week of the Porsche Race to Shenzhen. An early loss in Moscow by Bertens opened the door for the Swiss to move ahead, a scenario that eventually transpired when Bencic went on to win the title to earn her first trip to the WTA Finals Shenzhen.
Bertens instead was relegated to playing the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai. The 27-year-old finished runner-up to Aryna Sabalenka and made the short trip to Shenzhen to serve as the first alternate. She moved into the Red Group on Tuesday when Naomi Osaka pulled out with a shoulder injury and rallied from a set down to record her first win over world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty.
On Thursday, as fate would have it, the two found themselves facing off in a must-win situation. Despite trailing 3-0 in the pair’s head-to-head series, Bencic brushed the statistics and an early deficit aside to secure her place in the semifinals. The 22-year-old led 7-5, 1-0, when Bertens retired from the match due to a viral illness.
Bertens staved off two break points to hold for 2-2, then seized the lead when Bencic’s backhand found the net. The world No. 10 was unable to shut the door at 5-4, as the Swiss put Bertens under pressure with her second-serve returns. Down 5-6, Bertens became emotional during a visit with coach Elise Tamaela, saying it hurt to bend and having trouble with her upper back and shoulders.
Bencic would reel off five consecutive games, opening the second set with a routine hold. Bertens was visited by the doctor and opted to stop the match after having her blood pressure checked. The result handed Bencic her WTA-leading 11th Top-10 victory of 2019. She'll meet reigning champion Elina Svitolina in the last four, after the Ukrainian clinched the Purple Group Wednesday.
"We were fighting a lot coming into here for the eighth spot. It was nice to have a match tonight for the semifinals. I'm really sorry for her. I think maybe the gas ran out. I wish her the best," Bencic said in an on-court interview. "I think she was slowing down the pace well, so it was tactically good from her. I'm happy with how I played and fought, so I'm excited to be in the semis."