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Preview: WTA Finals down to Barty vs. Pliskova; Svitolina vs. Bencic

Preview: WTA Finals down to Barty vs. Pliskova; Svitolina vs. Bencic

Bencic is 2-1 against Svitolina, the defending champion, while top-ranked Barty leads Pliskova 3-2 in their head-to-head series.

The semifinals are set at the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen: Elina Svitolina faces Belinda Bencic, and Ashleigh Barty will take on Karolina Pliskova, on Saturday at the season-ending event.

The first semifinal was set on Thursday, after Bencic won by retirement over an ill Kiki Bertens. That result secured second place in the Red Group for Bencic, meaning she would face first place in the Purple Group, Svitolina, in the semis.

Svitolina had already clinched first place in her group by winning her first two matches in straight sets.

“It feels pretty amazing to reach the semifinals,” Bencic said. “To get into the tournament at the last minute and now make it through the group and into the semifinals, it feels very nice, I have to say.

“It was obviously not the way I wanted to win today, but I’m still super proud of how I fought back from 5-3 down in the first set. Maybe if she won the first set, it could have been a different story.”

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Svitolina, who had already beaten Pliskova and Simona Halep in straight sets in her first two round-robin matches, improved to 3-0 in the Purple Group—and 6-0 in sets—with a 7-5, 7-6 (10) win over Sofia Kenin on Friday. She’s now on an eight-match winning streak at the WTA Finals, having won all five of her matches en route to the title a year ago when the WTA Finals were held in Singapore.

“I don’t take being defending champion as pressure, to be fair,” she said. “Of course, there’s some pressure because you’re losing points in this week, and I think that kind of thing is pressure, but I try to never take it that way. I always try to take it as, ‘I played well here, so let’s find it this year as well.’”

Svitolina beat Bencic in their most recent meeting in Toronto this summer, 6-2, 6-4, but Bencic leads the overall head-to-head, 2-1, winning at Dubai earlier this year and Charleston back in 2014.

The second semifinal was set on Friday after Pliskova beat Halep, 6-0, 2-6, 6-4, to finish second place in the Purple Group. That set up a semifinal against Barty, who finished first in the Red Group. It’s also a clash between the two top players in the world: Barty is currently No. 1; Pliskova No. 2.

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Barty, who clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking by beating Bencic in her first round-robin match earlier in the week, sealed her spot in the semifinals with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Petra Kvitova on Thursday.

“It’s really exciting,” the Australian said. “I think this year’s been an incredible year, and this week we’ve kind of come into it like a bonus week. It’s an opportunity to play against the best of the best, and to have another opportunity now, in the semifinals of a massive tournament, is really exciting.”

Barty leads Pliskova in their overall head-to-head, 3-2, and the Australian also won their only previous 2019 meeting, beating the Czech in the final of the Premier Mandatory event in Miami, 7-6 (1), 6-3.

“We’ve played so many good matches,” Pliskova said. “She’s having a great year, so it’s going to be tough and a big challenge for me. I have nothing to lose—I’m just going to enjoy the match.”

Pliskova, a former No. 1 herself, has two career wins over reigning No. 1s, having beaten Serena Williams in the semifinals of the US Open in 2016, and Halep in the quarterfinals of Madrid in 2018.