Wozniacki, who lost her opener to Karolina Pliskova on day one of the tournament on Sunday, overcame a left knee problem that bothered her in the second set against Kvitova to claim a sixth win in 14 clashes versus the Czech world No. 5.
The Dane’s triumph improves her chances of qualifying to the semi-finals, and left Kvitova hanging in the balance.
Kvitova is the only player with a positive head-to-head record against all of her fellow group members but it amounted to little so far this week, as she suffered defeats in both her meetings with Svitolina and Wozniacki. The Czech has now lost five of her last six matches on tour.
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) October 23, 2018
In her showdown with Wozniacki on Tuesday, it was the former world No. 1 who drew first blood. Wozniacki converted her first break point of the tournament on her 12th opportunity. She was 0/10 in her opening match against Pliskova and missed one earlier in the first set against Kvitova. But the Australian Open champion found the winner to break in the eighth game and lead 5-3.
Kvitova got her hands on a break point the very next game, thanks to some punishing backhands, and she got the break back on a long ball from her opponent. They were soon on level terms at 5-all.
Wozniacki staved off Kvitova’s assault in the following game to complete a gutsy service hold. Kvitova’s error count kept moving in the wrong direction and she quickly found herself facing set points in game 12. Wozniacki converted on her second of the game, and third of the set to take a commanding lead over the Czech lefty.
The second set began with three consecutive breaks before Kvitova finally consolidated for a 3-1 lead. Wozniacki called the trainer and received treatment on her left knee. Following a six-minute interruption, Wozniacki returned to the court and won the next two games to even up the set to 3-all.
A fifth service break of the set came in the next game as Kvitova once again took the initiative. Wozniacki saved two set points but Kvitova closed the deal on her third opportunity, slicing her way to a hold and forcing a decider.
Gets the victory over Kvitova 7-5, 3-6, 6-2! pic.twitter.com/DiZK1G165q
— WTA (@WTA) October 23, 2018
Wozniacki made the first move in the final set and held for 2-0. In uncharacteristic fashion, Kvitova threw her racquet in frustration in the next game as she attempted to hold serve. The two-time Wimbledon champion looked spent and her opponent capitalised on that and was soon up a double-break and serving at 4-1.
She took the next two games to secure the win leaving Kvitova on the edge of elimination.
A win for Pliskova against Svitolina in the second match of the evening would end Kvitova’s chances of advancing to the semis.
When Simona Halep was asked to put her thinking cap on and analyse the WTA Finals field – now that she has withdrawn from the tournament with a back injury and won’t be competing – the Romanian was unable to pick a clear favourite.
The top-eight line-up for the season finale in Singapore reflects the incredible depth of the women’s game these days and a quick look at the match-ups indicates we’re in for a real scorcher this upcoming week in the Lion City.
“I can say I see some players that have a bigger chance, actually Caroline Wozniacki because she won last year and I think the court suits her,” Halep told reporters in Singapore on Saturday, after picking up the WTA Player of the Year award the night before.
“Petra Kvitova has a big chance. Naomi Osaka has a big chance. I think everybody has a big chance. You never know. Also the emotions will play a big thing. We will see. But I’m not gonna watch, just to tell you. No, not even one minute.”
Here’s a look at three main talking points ahead of the start of the WTA Finals on Sunday…
DEBUTANTES ON A MISSION
The three WTA Finals first-timers, Osaka, Sloane Stephens and Kiki Bertens, were all drawn together in the Red Group alongside 2016 runner-up Angelique Kerber. Of the trio, Osaka comes to Singapore with the biggest momentum, having won the US Open, made final in Tokyo, and reached semi-finals in Beijing in her last three tournaments.
The fourth-ranked Japanese – the youngest in the field – seems to be adjusting nicely to her place among the world’s best and has the benefit of previous playing experience on centre court at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, as she played and won the final of the WTA Rising Stars event there in 2015.
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) October 3, 2018
While others may take their feet off the gas pedal once they’ve achieved a major goal like winning their first Slam, Osaka is hungry for more and ready for battle.
“Of course I’m very happy that I am in this position that I am, but I don’t necessarily want to have the feeling of satisfaction, because that means that, I don’t know, you think you have reached your goal. For me, I don’t want to stop here,” the 21-year-old told reporters in Singapore on Saturday.
“Of course this tournament hasn’t even started yet, so definitely, to play this tournament, you have to have the goal of winning on your mind. You’re playing against the best players in the world. So I don’t know. Like I just want to compete, and after this tournament is over maybe I can think about being satisfied. But for now, I don’t know. I just feel really competitive.”
Bertens is also familiar with the venue having qualified for the WTA Finals in doubles last year, alongside Johanna Larsson, where they were runners-up. The Dutchwoman has won two of her last six tournaments, in Cincinnati and Seoul, and can rely on her tour-leading 10-5 record against top-10 opposition this season when she faces her fellow Singapore qualifiers this week.
Stephens, whose year is highlights by winning Miami and reaching the finals at Roland Garros and Montreal, was winless in Asia (post-US Open) throughout her career up until she snapped her losing streak with two victories in Beijing earlier this month. While the American has lost her opening match in three of her last four tournaments, she loves a big stage and tends to step up against the top guns. Stephens is also a combined 6-1 head-to-head against her fellow Red Group members, including a 4-1 lead over top-seeded Kerber.
BACK WHERE THEY BELONG
Kerber and Kvitova are back in the WTA Finals for a fourth and fifth time respectively. Kerber is back in the fray for the first time since she was runner-up in 2016 while Kvitova makes her return to the event for the first time since she was runner-up in 2015.
Kerber, who split with her coach Wim Fissette ahead of the tournament despite having a stellar year with the Belgian, ended 2017 ranked 21 in the world, and was far off the cut-off for Singapore. She won Wimbledon and Sydney this season and is currently ranked No. 3 in the world.
Kvitova, a WTA Finals champion in 2011, missed the season finale the last two years but is seeded No. 4 this week and leads the tour in 2018 with five titles won. The Czech lefty was happy to report that centre court this year plays faster than previous years in Singapore – faster surfaces suit her game better – and she is a comfortable 18-6 against her fellow White Group members head-to-head.
She also likes the format of the event, and carries a 7-1 head-to-head mark against her first opponent Elina Svitolina on Sunday.
“I think that, like, from the first match we are meeting the best players. So that’s like obviously I love to play the best of players on the big stage. This is kind of all eight and above that, so from the first match we really have to be ready for that. That’s why I think is bringing the best for me,” said Kvitova.
CARO LOOKING TO REPEAT
Wozniacki is bidding to become the first player to successfully defend her WTA Finals title since Serena Williams won back-to-back crowns in 2013 and 2014. The Dane’s success in Singapore last fall made way for further glory at the start of this season, as she captured her maiden Grand Slam title in Australia in January. The Dane is a combined 12-14 head-to-head against her fellow White Group members and opens her campaign on Sunday against Pliskova, in a rematch of last year’s semi-final. Wozniacki received a much-needed boost during the Asian swing when she picked up the title in Beijing earlier this month.
In a high-stakes final between two of the most entertaining players in the women’s game, Daria Kasatkina and Ons Jabeur delivered a thriller to remember in Moscow that ended with both competitors on the ground – one weeping uncontrollably for winning the title, and the other shedding tears of pain brought on by cramps.
Kasatkina pulled off a tremendous comeback, rallying from 2-6, 1-4 down against an on-fire Jabeur to defeat the Tunisian 2-6, 7-6(3), 6-4 in a two-hour battle. The win didn’t just give Kasatkina her first title on home soil, it also guaranteed the Russian her top-10 debut on Monday.
For Jabeur, it was a painful and emotional ending to an otherwise career-defining week that saw her become the first Arab woman to make a WTA semi-final and final.
The 24-year-old, who started the week in Moscow ranked 101 in the world, won seven matches in seven days through qualifying and the main draw, upsetting three top-eight seeds along the way, and as a result, will rise to a career-high No. 63 on Monday.
It will be the highest ranking ever achieved by an Arab or North African woman and it is particularly impressive considering she was down to 180 in the rankings just four months ago.
For Kasatkina, Saturday’s clash provided a full circle moment after she lost last year’s Moscow final to Julia Goerges. The 21-year-old now owns two titles from five finals reached and improves to 14-4 win-loss at her home tournament.
“I remember 10 years ago as a kid, I was coming here just to watch this tournament and I was dreaming of just standing on this centre court holding the trophy and here I am, it’s a dream come true,” said Kasatkina.
— WTA (@WTA) October 20, 2018
Jabeur, playing the first WTA final of her career, started the match strong, showing far fewer nerves than her more experienced opponent. The Tunisian took the opening set in 24 minutes, and was particularly deadly on her forehand side.
Kasatkina broke to start the second set, but Jabeur retaliated and took three games in a row to lead 4-1. Just two games away from claiming a historic title, Jabeur blinked, and Kasatkina awakened. Multiple visits from Kasatkina’s coach, Philippe Dehaes proved to be the catalyst she needed to turn things around.
“You’re still in the match, you have 10 minutes to find a solution,” the Belgian told her when she was down 2-6, 1-4, giving her some tactical advice on serve and return. “What do you think? Don’t think that it’s not possible, you’re in the match, you going to serve, we’re going to play, what do you feel? Give me something concrete.
“Dasha listen to me, this match is not finished yet. If you think it’s finished, we change the job you and me. I don’t want to change the job. I want to stay here, I want to win this title with you. And we’re going to do it because you’re going to play every point the same way. Prove to yourself that you can fight until the end. This is the challenge of your young career.”
Down 6-2, 4-1 down, a despondent Daria Kasatkina called out Philippe Dehaes @tennisrussia.
Here’s what he said: pic.twitter.com/K6VuDIjM8A
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) October 20, 2018
Kasatkina held serve the next game then broke back and was soon on level terms with Jabeur at 4-4. The Russian No. 6 seed broke Jabeur to lead 6-5 but was pegged back and the set went to a tiebreak. This time, Kasatkina opened up a lead and wouldn’t let go as she wrapped up the set to force a decider.
“I don’t like saying the word ‘lose’ but if you lose, you lose like a champ,” Dehaes told her upon his return to the court after the second set.
Kasatkina broke for a 2-0 lead in the decider but Jabeur fired back. The home favourite started finding depth in all her shots and dazzled on defence as Jabeur lost a bit of the spring in her step.
Kasatkina got the decisive break in the eighth game to lead 5-3 but nerves hit her the next game and Jabeur miraculously broke serve despite clutching at her left thigh in pain as cramps started to take over. During the changeover at 5-4, the Tunisian was in tears and was unable to sit down from the pain. Serving to stay in the match, Jabeur could barely serve and Kasatkina secured the Kremlin Cup title moments later.
And incredible battle by two incredible athletes! pic.twitter.com/ojBayHW42P
— WTA (@WTA) October 20, 2018
She fell face down crying tears of joy then walked over the other side of the net to help Jabeur up. A trainer came to her aid and together with Kasatkina, they escorted Jabeur to her bench after the Russian gave her opponent some consolation words.
“I think it was a good week for you, very tough, I saw you give everything today. This is what sport is about and I really appreciate that we had this match today and I wish you all the best and good luck. Your team is amazing,” Kasatkina told Jabeur during the trophy ceremony.
“I’m really sure it’s not our last final, and see you in Maldives or somewhere.”
After receiving some treatment post-match, Jabeur congratulated Kasatkina and thanked the Tunisians who supported her in the stands, including her nation’s ambassador to Russia.
“This is my first WTA Premier final for me, hopefully I can do more next year,” said Jabeur. “Just one last message to my husband who is Russian, I just want to tell him [I love you in Russian],” she signed off with a smile.