Barty, Svitolina advance at WTA Finals

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SHENZHEN, China — Top-ranked Ashleigh Barty advanced Saturday to the final of the WTA Finals where she faces defending champion Elina Svitolina, a player she has never beaten in five previous attempts.

Barty, like Svitolina, dropped the opening set of her semifinal before beating second-ranked Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

“I felt like the whole match was an incredibly high level,” Barty said. “I’m just pleased to get another chance to play out here.

“It’s a match I can come out and try to enjoy. I have nothing to lose. It’s an opportunity against a really tough player.”

Belinda Bencic retired in the third set as Svitolina outlasted the injured Swiss to win 5-7, 6-3, 4-1 and reach her second straight final at the WTA Finals.

“It’s still kind of like not realizing that I’m in the final,” Svitolina said, but added “it’s tough to play someone who has been injured.”

This has been a standout season for Barty, who won her first Grand Slam title at the French Open, and attained top ranking for the first time. Barty is Australia’s first female year-end No. 1.

Barty posted 11 aces to only one for Pliskova.

This marked the third consecutive year that Pliskova had advanced to the semifinals, but she’s yet to contest for the title in a final.

Bencic was already struggling before the end of the first set, which she won. Bencic later said it was a hamstring problem and cramping.

Svitolina had made it through the group stage without dropping a set. Winning the WTA Finals in Singapore last season remains the biggest title of her career.

After holding serve to lead 6-5 in the first set against Svitolina, Bencic received a medical timeout to have treatment during the changeover. Back on court, Bencic took the set on her third set point with a backhand down-the-line winner.

But the leg injury caused more problems for Bencic, allowing Svitolina to gain control of the match.

Bencic, who lost her serve in the first and ninth games of the second set, received further treatment when trailing 1-2 and 3-4 at the changeovers.

In the third set, Svitolina went ahead 3-0, and by 4-1 Bencic couldn’t continue.

Some players have remarked on the slowness of the court during the week. Bencic claimed the court hindered movement, although Svitolina appears to enjoy the surface.

“I really didn’t want to retire,” Bencic said. “I wanted to finish the match. It was not possible. I’m really disappointed about how my body failed me.

“Also, I think these courts are really not ideal.”

Naomi Osaka, the reigning Australian Open champion, withdrew ahead of her second round-robin match with a right shoulder injury.

Reigning U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu withdrew before her third round-robin match after injuring her knee in the previous match.

Alcaraz loses to Goffin in 1st match as No. 1

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Carlos Alcaraz’s first match as the No. 1-ranked player ended with a straight-set loss to David Goffin at the Astana Open.

The 19-year-old Spaniard lost 7-5, 6-3 in his first tour match since winning the U.S. Open and capturing the No. 1 ranking.

“David was playing really, really well. To come back to competition is never easy,” Alcaraz said. “It’s really tough for me, for my confidence.”

Alcaraz came from 5-2 down to level the first set at 5-5, only to be broken again by his Belgian opponent.

“When you play against the World No. 1 on a big stage, big crowd, the fire inside gives you so much power to play your best tennis because you don’t have any choice,” Goffin said. “You have to fight and give your best and that was the case today.”

Second-seeded Daniil Medvedev and No. 3-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas both avoided similar upsets. Medvedev beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain 6-3, 6-1 and Tsitsipas ousted Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3. 6-4.

Kasatkina knocks out Raducanu at Agel Open

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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — Fifth-seeded Daria Kasatkina defeated 2021 U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu 7-5, 6-4 to advance to the second round of the Agel Open.

Kasatkina was playing her first match since losing in the first round of the U.S. Open and will next face Ekaterina Alexandrova.

Sixth-seeded Belinda Bencic of Switzerland rallied to eliminate former top-five player Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 6-7 (7), 6-1, while Aliaksandra Sasnovich upset eighth-seeded Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-2.

American qualifiers Alycia Parks and Catherine McNally both advanced. Parks upset Czech Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 7-6 (3) and McNally eased past Anna Blinkova 6-1, 6-2 at the indoor hardcourt event in the Czech eastern city of Ostrava.