Former world number one Angelique Kerber suffered defeat at the hands of Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on the first day of the WTA Elite Trophy Tuesday, a rough start for the German at the season-ending tournament.
Pavlyuchenkova, seeded fourth, beat 29-year-old Kerber 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 in one hour and 54 minutes at the Zhuhai Hengqin International Tennis Centre in southern China.
The eighth-seeded Kerber, who clinched both the Australian and US Open titles last year, still has a chance to qualify for the semis because of the round-robin format of the tournament.
Having struggled to find her feet in the first set, down 4-1 after the first five games, she managed to redeem herself in the second, gallantly holding serve in the third game and snatching a key break in game six before levelling the match.
The two traded service breaks at the start of the third set but it wasn’t long before the Russian had Kerber on the run.
“I was not playing good in the first set. I start to play my game actually in the second set, and then, yeah, I think at the end she won the deciding points,” she told media.
Earlier in the week the German, who has dropped from world number one in January to 19th, told AFP she had learned some lessons this year and was looking forward to a fresh start next season.
“I don’t think it’s the best year,” she told the post-match press conference.
“Today I was not able to play from the beginning my match and my game. So I was always having, like, up-and-downs, and that’s for sure not the game I can play.”
America’s Coco Vandeweghe earlier beat her Chinese wild card opponent.
The second seed downed China’s number one player Peng Shuai 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in one hour and 55 minutes.
The 25-year-old had previously won only one match in her past four tournaments on Chinese soil.
She admitted starting off “sloppy” against Peng — the oldest player in the line up and ranked 27 in the world.
“Today was a survive and conquer kind of day, I really was playing not so well, very below average for the standard that I’m used to playing,” she told journalists.
“It’s a tough part of the year and a tough event… after the US Open it’s kinda, it’s, it’s rough, there’s no secret about that,” she said.
Peng had got off to a good start, securing the break in the second game and holding serve to give her a 3-0 lead.
But the American made a comeback in the second and third sets, losing serve just once.
“Today I felt that I played pretty well but then my opponent did even better,” said Peng, the crowd favourite, who also still has a shot at the semis.
The Elite Trophy features 12 players placed nine and below in world rankings, while those ranked eight and above made up the field for the WTA Finals in Singapore which ended Sunday.
Kristina Mladenovic says she is ready for a final “little push” at this week’s Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai at the end of what has been a roller coaster 2017 season for the Frenchwoman.
Her blistering form in the first half of the year included a thrilling run to the quarter-finals at Roland Garros and means that, despite struggling to match those results since, this has been the best year of her career.
The 24-year-old is currently on a 10-match losing streak, and is hoping she can finish the season on a high note, following a difficult stretch over the past three months.
Mladenovic is likely to be top seed in the high quality 12-player field when the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai gets underway on Tuesday October 31 after breaking into the world’s top 10 in the year-end rankings for the first time earlier this week.
She is looking to build on that success this coming week, knowing that if she recaptures her form in Zhuhai it could provide her with the perfect foundation for next year.
“Definitely this is a chance to set the tone for 2018,” said Mladenovic.
“The second half of this season was a real struggle for me but the positive note for me is that I now feel better physically and I managed to sort out the physical problem that I had. I feel kind of refreshed. And I would like to compete better and play better and the results can also come in Zhuhai.
“Just to feel part of it is also a chance to relax in a way because it’s a great achievement and after a long year you can just give a little push and then afterwards you can absolutely relax, take time off, think with your team what was good and what was not good and start to build for the next season.”
Mladenovic claimed the first title of her career earlier this year in St. Petersburg and reached three more finals in Acapulco, Stuttgart and Madrid.
Zhuhai field announced pic.twitter.com/gJGuFff0cP
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) October 25, 2017
“The year was pretty big for me. Many great lessons for me, let’s say. I had a huge six months of the year and then I struggled a little bit and I was unlucky with injury but I always say that things are happening in life for a reason and at least I feel like I have learned so much from this year in every way,” she said.
“To have my best year, to be in Singapore as an alternate first of all made me extremely proud because I know many would love to be there.
“The reward is also to play in Zhuhai and I heard it’s an amazing event from some of the players who came last year. Some of those who competed there last year qualified for Singapore the following year and the other way around, so the field is very strong.
“It’s a very big event and the WTA and the organisers are putting in lots of effort. I’m actually very excited because to be in one of the year-end events is big goal. I’m looking forward to visiting the area as well because I have never been there and I’m excited to go and compete there with the other girls.”
The Dane had won just one set in seven harrowing defeats to Williams but she turned the tables with a 6-4, 6-4 victory in 89 minutes at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Wozniacki had some nervy moments after 37-year-old Williams, the tournament's oldest ever finalist, clawed her way back from 0-5 down in the second set.
But she kept her cool to seal victory with a backhand down the line, throwing her racquet into the air and holding her hands to her face in disbelief.
"I am so happy I managed to win in the end," said Wozniacki, describing the victory as "really sweet".
"Eight is my lucky number. If I was going to beat her (Williams) once in my career, it had to be today.
"I couldn't be happier right now. It's been an amazing year. Last year was tough with injuries but I fought my way back and to stand here and win the title means a lot to me."
Wozniacki has been in brilliant, aggressive form in Singapore, beating Elina Svitolina and Simona Halep at the group stage and Karolina Pliskova in the semi-finals.
After an even start, she seized control of the final by breaking four straight times across the sets to lead 5-0 in the second set.
With the title in her sights, Wozniacki was unable to serve it out in the seventh game and the ninth, when Williams produced an astounding crosscourt winner to win her fourth straight game.
But Wozniacki finally triumphed in the 10th game with her backhand down the line. She will now be third in the year-end rankings, after starting the tournament at sixth.
Williams looked increasingly weary as the match wore on after playing a gruelling, three-set semi-final against Caroline Garcia on Saturday.
"I didn't seem to come up with my best tennis until it was too late," the American said. "I love being here, it is an honour. Only eight players get to be here and I hope to return."
In a contrast of styles, counter-puncher Wozniacki tried to extend the rallies while her big-hitting opponent attempted to shorten points through sheer power and rushes to the net.
Wozniacki broke three times in the first set and took a one-set lead when Williams played a loose service game at 4-5 down -- just she second set she had ever conceded to the Dane.
Wozniacki, in her first WTA Finals since 2014, flourished in Singapore, with a tough three-set defeat to Caroline Garcia her only slip-up.
It completed a stellar comeback season for the two-time Grand Slam finalist, who endured an injury-marred 2016 and finished ranked number 19, her lowest position since 2007.
Williams was denied a 50th career triumph and first for the year, having finished runner-up at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
She will remain the world number five after playing in her first WTA Finals since 2009.
Earlier, world number three pairing Timea Babos and Andrea Hlavackova won the WTA Finals doubles title on debut with a 4-6, 6-4, 10-5 comeback victory over Kiki Bertens and Johanna Larsson.