By Ros Satar at the Shiseido WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China
- Elina Svitolina  def. Simona Halep  7-5, 6-3
- Karolina Pliskova  def. Bianca Andreescu  6-3, RET
- Svitolina qualifies, Pliskova and Halep fight for the last spot with winner takes all
SHENZHEN, CHINA – Defending champion Elina Svitolina made it look easy as she eased past Simona Halep to qualify for the semi-finals, while Bianca Andreescu limped out after one set.
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Elina Svitolina  def. Simona Halep  7-5, 6-3
The fact that defending champion Elina Svitolina has made it safely through two rounds in straight sets tells you everything you need to know about the challenges facing her opponents on this court.
After grinding out a tough three-set victory over Bianca Andreescu, Simona Halep geared up for a long day at the office, going down 0-3 before settling her nerves and more importantly finding her range. Getting the break back, both had chances to nudge ahead but perhaps a looser game from Halep allowed Svitolina to stamp a bit more authority on the match with a break to love for the first set.
Halep looked a little more aggressive at the start of the second set, breaking early, only to be pegged back straight after the changeover, and although she tried to mix up her game a bit more, urged to throw in more drop shots by coach Darren Cahill, it was Svitolina’s break in the penultimate game which put her in the driving seat.
Svitolina had to work for her win, saving two break points before taking her first and only match point.
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Karolina Pliskova  def. Bianca Andreescu  6-3, RET
If the match before was made to look straight forward, this encounter was anything but with drama early on as Andreescu’s knee buckled having gone up 2-0. After a medical time out which saw her knee heavily scrapped, to the incredulity of many that she would even consider carrying on.
Even when she started to cry in a coaching time-out about the prospect of having to pull out, coach Sylvain Bruneau only advised her not to push it, which saw her come out again. However, common sense prevailed after Karolina Pliskova steadied the ship to break back and then break once more before closing out the first set.
Pliskova described, after the match: “Actually I didn’t really look at her, so I don’t know what really happened. I thought she did ankle at first moment, but then I saw she was taped by the knee. I was finishing my serve, so I couldn’t really watch.
“I don’t know how bad it is. I was just ready that she was going to call physio because so far I think she has been calling physio in every match. It was not really a surprise for me.
“I didn’t know it was really that bad. Of course, I feel sorry for her. I don’t know if she’s going to be ready or if she withdraw completely, I’m not sure. Anyway, I think she had a great season. Of course, everybody is tired a little bit by this point, but I think that’s normal.”
What follows now is a straight up winner-takes-all scenario for Pliskova against Halep, and while they have swapped wins over the past few encounters, the head to head is still overwhelmingly in the favour of the Romanian.
Pliskova said: “I think that’s going to be a great matchup for just going out of the group to the semi-finals. Should be incredible match. I hope it’s going to be a good match to watch, too. I’m sure, because she’s putting a lot of balls back. The tennis with her, I feel it’s always good to watch.
“Of course, for me tough because there’s going to be a lot of rallies. I played good match against Svitolina. I think it’s going to be a little bit similar to Simona. She beat her, so should be close. But I still have to play well. It’s going to be difficult.”
For Andreescu, even if she could play on Friday, her tournament is effectively over. Having suffered with a back injury in the first match, and now this injury, her team will be wise to call time on what has been a remarkable season.
She said, of the injury: “I stepped weirdly on a return. I heard my knee crack. It kind of went inwards. Putting pressure afterwards on it really bothered me. I could barely bend my knee. But I fought with the pain as much as I could. At some point an athlete has to say ‘stop’ and just listen to their body. That’s what I did.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing ’cause this is the last tournament of the year, you want to go all out. You’re playing one of the biggest tournaments of the year, too. It’s not easy.”
The plan is to have an MRI scan on the knee tomorrow and then assess whether to play the final match of the season on Friday. If she chooses not to, and assuming there are no other withdrawals in the round-robin group tomorrow, then Sofia Kenin would be the next alternate to play for a single round on Friday.
Play continues at the WTA Finals on Thursday starting at 4pm (8am GMT).
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