By Ros Satar at the Shiseido WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China
- Ashleigh Barty  v Naomi Osaka  | H2H tied at 2-2
- Petra Kvitova  v Belinda Bencic  | Kvitova leads H2H 4-1
SHENZHEN, CHINA – Qualification and elimination beckon as the second-round robins for the red group get underway.
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Ashleigh Barty  v Naomi Osaka  | H2H tied at 2-2
For Barty, it is a continuation of a solid year which saw her win a maiden Grand Slam title, and all but secure the year-end No. 1 spot – she has to take to the court and play one point to reach that accolade.
Osaka’s debut last year was nowhere near as positive, with two losses and a retirement in the round-robin stages, so to start with a win was an important step for the two-time Slam champion.
Now with three out of the four Slams owned by this pair, a win will all but ensure passage into the knock out stages, before we get to the grids we all know and love as we look at the advancement scenarios.
The Beijing final, which formed part of Osaka’s current unbeaten streak was their first three-setter, and there was plenty to learn for Barty, who had to claw and fight her way through almost all of that tournament, taken the distance four times.
Barty admitted that it took her a while to get her serve going in her opener, but once she figured it out, she was dominated in the second and third sets. The slower pace of the court ought to help her mix things up, but Osaka’s heavier playing style also found its place in the opening match, as she edged out Petra Kvitova in three sets.
Barty certainly seems to be the more level-headed on the court – Osaka did at times let herself get frustrated by Kvitova ripping winners, and the variety that Barty brings to the court will mean she will probably find herself off kilter more often than not.
Prediction: Barty in three sets.
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Petra Kvitova  v Belinda Bencic  | Kvitova leads H2H 4-1
There was a marked contrast between Kvitova and Belinda Bencic when they came into press after their first round-robin losses. Kvitova is an old hand at these scenarios, shrugging off a loss knowing that she has made the semi-final stages with a round-robin defeat on the books.
After a season which saw her struggle with injury during the clay and grass court swings, she has picked up some pace with a couple of decent runs in Wuhan and Beijing, while the euphoria of Bencic’s Moscow title run may well have taken its toll with a lingering foot injury playing up.
With a day off, the Swiss may well feel a little more rested, but their head to head makes worrying reading, save for Bencic’s win over Kvitova in Dubai this year.
A win for Kvitova would all but sound the death-knell for Bencic’s debut – the Czech knows how the game is played, wryly acknowledging that she more than did enough in terms of games won to give her more of an edge when it comes to the more fun scenarios after the second group stage matches.
For both players, this year’s appearance at the WTA Finals is seen as a significant achievement. Bencic’s consistency paid off, but this feels like one time where experience will triumph.
Prediction: Kvitova in straight sets.
Barty & Osaka are scheduled not before 6:30pm (10:30am GMT), Kvitova & Bencic not before 8pm (12pm GMT).
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