By Ros Satar, at the WTA Finals, Shenzhen
- Naomi Osaka  v Petra Kvitova 
- Ashleigh Barty  v Belinda Bencic 
SHENZHEN, CHINA – While top seed Ashleigh Barty closes out the first day of the WTA Finals, Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova have a rematch of the Australian Open final.
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Naomi Osaka  v Petra Kvitova 
The Red group starts the action in the WTA Finals with a rematch of the Australian Open from the start of the year.
It was a first meeting back in the first month of the season between the then reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka, and for Petra Kvitova, it was her first Slam final outside of Wimbledon, both with winning records in each of their Slam final attempts.
At the time, while it looked like experience might prevail as Kvitova came back from a set down to rattle Osaka, who eventually came through to make it back to back Slams. The rest of the year has been challenging for both players. Kvitova struggled post Stuttgart title with injury, while Osaka and Europe were not a mix made in heaven.
The second half of the year has definitely been a little more solid for Osaka, who is currently on a 10-match winning spree having won Beijing and Osaka on her way to the WTA Finals. Kvitova finished up with the semi-finals of Wuhan and quarter-finals in Beijing, but was struggling with a cold, sounding somewhat husky in her pre-tournament press conference.
All players by now feel a little weary, but Osaka does at least seem a little more prepared this time around for the round-robin fun that the tournament offers.
Osaka said: “I think last year the end of the year was just so hectic for me, and I didn’t really remember anything. Honestly, by the time I got here, I was just so tired. Of course, I’m a little bit tired this year, too (smiling), but for different reasons.
“I managed to win Osaka and Beijing. I hope that I can continue that going forward. I definitely think last year helped me in the way that I kind of know the format more. Before last year, I haven’t played round-robin since I was, like, eight or ten, so…”
Kvitova was amused to be reminded that she is the oldest competitor here this year, but with that comes a lot of experience, which also includes her winning on her debut – a task last emulated by Dominika Cibulkova.
She joked: “I just realised yesterday that I’m the oldest one of them, which feels pretty weird (smiling). But I going to take it. We spoke with Simona, she’s just one year younger. We made some fun of it.
“Not sure if the experience it’s better or no. Of course, I mean, I probably had everything what’s coming with the WTA Finals. I had to pull out once. I won it once. I been in the final, whatever happened.
“It’s something every final is just different. Being just in the top eight, that’s makes the differences. But, I mean, I won it like my first Final without any experience. I’m not sure if it’s about that.”
For once, all the players seem to agree that the court is playing quote slow. Osaka certainly comes in with the momentum but has concerns about how Kvitova’s infamous leftie serve.
“I just think it’s going to be hard because I only have the Australian Open to sort of think about in regards to playing her again. “This court is a bit slow, but it’s also indoors. I’m very concerned how her serve is going to treat me tomorrow (smiling).”
Can Kvitova make good her revenge?
She said: “It’s a bit funny that we played in the first month and the last month of the season. Yeah, I think she is back in her great form, which she showed in Asia. Definitely she going to be confident, playing well, serving well of course. The surface is a bit slower, so it will be a little bit different.
“I’m really looking forward. I lost to her last time. I’m really looking forward for the match and hopefully for the good revenge.”
Prediction: Osaka in three sets.
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Ashleigh Barty  v Belinda Bencic 
If the first match is a rematch of what turned out to be a gripping Australian Open final, then the battle of the new-comers will be even more intriguing. After Belinda Bencic went through a full gamut of emotions on her way to the WTA Finals line-up, Ashleigh Barty continues to take everything that comes her way in her stride.
Fresh from receiving a prestigious ‘Don’ award at the Sport Australia Hall of Fame annual awards, and coming in as the World No. 1, Barty is looking to translate her experiences in the WTA Finals in doubles into the singles.
“It’s an incredible group of players, I think. It’s very special being here in singles, having had a bit of a taste it in the doubles the last two years. It was really nice.
“I think the goal for all singles players is to make the Finals at the end of the year, to be playing against the best of the best to test yourself against the best. Really excited to have an opportunity now after a fantastic year to try and finish really well.”
She will face Bencic, who catapulted herself into the line-up with a last-ditch win in Moscow to seal her place, leap-frogging defending champion Elina Svitolina in the process.
Bencic admitted: “I think it’s the most excited I’ve ever been for a match celebration. I was just so relieved, like, the moment I converted the match point and realised I made it to here last minute possible.
“Yeah, at some point it has become a big goal for me. I tried to qualify in China and Linz. It didn’t go well. Then I kind of stopped believing in it. I thought I would be in Zhuhai. I just took my last chance in Moscow. Somehow it paid off. I’m super happy. I think Kuznetsova was my idol on this.”
Barty’s run to the final in Beijing was her last tournament, and leaves her somewhat better rested than Bencic, who lived and died every point on the way to her Moscow win. While the Swiss just seems very happy to be here, Barty perhaps comes in as the favourite.
The speed and stylings of the court perhaps favours the variety and slice-and-dice of Barty who should start her campaign with a win.
Barty in three sets.
Osaka & Kvitova are scheduled on Centre Court, not before 4:30pm (8:30am BST), followed by Barty & Bencic.
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