Johanna Konta has appointed Michael Joyce as her new coach.
The British number one has been looking for a replacement for Wim Fissette since they parted company in October and has turned to the 44-year-old, who used to coach Maria Sharapova.
Joyce will be in Konta’s camp for the first tournament of the new season in Brisbane, starting on January 1.
“Michael is a fantastic coach with a great pedigree and I’m really excited to work with him,” she announced on Wednesday.
“2017 has been amazing but I feel like there is so much more to come. Our first tournament together will be the Brisbane International and the plan is for Michael to travel with me full-time through 2018.”
Konta ended her partnership with Fissette after a disappointing end to what had been an impressive 2017. She won her biggest singles title of her career in Miami and followed that up with a run to the Wimbledon semi-final, which sent her to number four in the world.
But that proved the high point of her campaign and a poor run of form in the autumn saw her part ways with Fissette in October.
After a lengthy recruitment process she has now appointed Joyce, who worked with Sharapova for seven years between 2004 and 2011 and helped the Russian to two grand slam titles and the world number one ranking.
The American, whose highest rank as a player was 64 in 1996, has most recently worked with another former world number one Victoria Azarenka.
Konta has retained Gill Myburgh as her strength and conditioning coach, Milly Mirkovic as her physio and Elena Sosa as her mental coach.
The American, seeded third in the tournament, was beaten by the Latvian fifth seed in two straight sets 7-5, 6-3 in one hour and 28 minutes at the Hengqin International Tennis Centre.
Stephens, 24, was a first-round loser at the Wuhan Open and the China Open in Beijing before pulling out of Hong Kong, but insisted Monday she wasn’t feeling under pressure.
“I don’t think I played terribly,” she said of Wednesday’s match.
“I was happy to be playing better than my last matches, so that’s a good thing.”
French top seed Kristina Mladenovic was also defeated Wednesday by Slovakia’s number one Magdalena Rybarikova 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (5), in a tight match that saw Rybarikova squander six match points before finally sealing her victory.
Twenty-four-year-old Mladenovic, ranked at a career-high number 10, still has a chance to qualify for the semis but Rybarikova was confirmed out late Wednesday given the round robin format.
“(There were) ups and downs from my side, but… there’s a lot of things to take out from this match, lots of positives,” said Mladenovic, who is now on an 11-match losing streak.
But her first-match loss in Zhuhai also follows a recent poor run, including an upset by Croatian Jana Fett at the Japan Women’s Open in September, where she was again top seed.
Earlier in the season she reached the semi-finals at Indian Wells — a result which saw her break into the world top 20 for the first time, temporarily overtaking Caroline Garcia as French number one.
“(It was) a pretty unique season,” she said.
“The second part is dramatic, is terrible. The first part is also dramatic but in a positive way.”
Despite “the tricky journey”, the French number two said she had improved a lot.
Separately, the tournament’s youngest player and ninth seed Ashleigh Barty cruised to victory over Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in just one hour and 11 minutes, firing nine aces for a 6-4, 6-1 triumph.
The 21-year-old, who began the year ranked outside the top 300, made the final in Wuhan and recently became Australia’s top player.
“I feel like I’m playing really well this whole year,” she told media, adding that she wants to finish “strong”.
On Thursday she faces German Angelique Kerber who she met in Brisbane at the start of the season. Kerber, then world number one, survived a big scare from the Australian wildcard entry.
“I think I’m in a bit of a different position than I was in January when we played against each other,” Barty, now ranked 20 in the world, said.
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.