The last time the world’s top two players met at the WTA Finals was in 2012, a match that saw world No. 2 Maria Sharapova take out world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals. On Saturday, seven years later, top-ranked Ashleigh Barty battled past second-seeded Karolina Pliskova, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, to advance to her first WTA Finals championship match in Shenzhen.
It was a slow start for Barty, who had faced multiple break points in her early service games before getting broken in the sixth game. That break was enough for Pliskova to close out the first set.
Not being able to put a dent on Pliskova’s service games, the French Open champion sought advice from her coach, Craig Tyzeer.
"I can't get out of that low rally,” said Barty. “It's just unpredictable off the court."
After listening to her charge, Tyzer gave her a simple but great advice.
"The only thing you need to change on your service games is your pace a bit,” he said. “Throw the kicker into the body, even on the first serve. She's loving the pace.”
Heed, she did. After fending off four breakpoints in the third game, Barty broke the 27-year-old Czech before consolidating to go up 4-1. Three games later, the Aussie broke again to level the match.
A forehand crosscourt winner in the fifth game of the third set gave Barty a break to go up 4-2. Two service games later, she ended Pliskova’s season with a three-set win.
Barty, who has won three titles this season—including the French Open—will face defending champion Elina Svitolina, who advanced to the final after Belinda Bencic retired in the third set with a leg injury.