Ashleigh Barty sets up WTA Finals title clash with Elina Svitolina
World No 1 faces the defending champion after beating Pliskova in three sets
Top-ranked Ashleigh Barty will have the chance to end her career-best season with one last trophy after reaching the final of the WTA Finals in Shenzhen where she will meet defending champion Elina Svitolina.
Barty, who began 2019 ranked No 15 in the world, has made the most of her debut appearance at the season-ending Finals, and defeated world No 2 Karolina Pliskova 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 to book her place in the title match.
"That whole match was an incredibly high level. I didn't think I did much wrong in the first set and I'm really pleased to get another chance to play here," Barty, 23, said in her on-court interview.
Barty's successful season has included two tour titles and her first grand slam triumph - at the French Open - but if she is to cap it all off with one more trophy, she will need to overcome an opponent against whom she has lost all five previous meetings.
"It's a match I can come out and enjoy – I've got nothing to lose," the Australian said. "I can come out and try to end my regular season really well.
"It's an opportunity against a really tough player who obviously knows how to win in these situations, so it's a match I'm looking forward to and I can't wait to get back out here."
Not only does Barty need to end her winless run against 25-year-old Svitolina, but also stop the Ukrainian's nine-match winning streak at this event: five successive victories en route to last year's title in Singapore have been followed by four straight wins this week in Shenzhen.
However, Svitolina's run looked in danger of ending in the semi-final against Belinda Bencic before the Swiss player was forced to retire due to cramping. Bencic had looked comfortable on her way to winning the first set, but numerous visits to her chair by the doctors were unable to solve her cramping issues and she was forced to concede defeat with Svitolina leading 5-7, 6-3, 4-1.
It was the third mid-match withdrawal of the tournament after Kiki Bertens and Bianca Andreescu, while Naomi Osaka pulled out after her first match.
"It's tough to play someone who has been injured on the court," Svitolina said after the match. "It was tough for her.
"It's still kind of not realising that I'm in the final. It's the very last match of the season. Definitely tomorrow, I'm going to leave everything on the court and fight just to try to get another trophy here."
It is a difficult end to what has been a fine season for Bencic, who has fought back from career-threatening injuries to win her first WTA Tour title in almost four years – at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships – return to the top-10 in the world rankings, and reach a first grand slam semi-final at the US Open.
"I started cramping in my foot and again in my hamstring," Bencic said. "I really didn't want to retire. I tried. Sometimes, I just tried to make a good serve, play no rallies, but it just wasn't enough.
"I wanted to finish the match, but it was not possible. I'm really disappointed about how my body failed me.
"It doesn't feel good that I couldn't do more, but obviously credit to Elina. She made the rallies long and did the right things. She has a great advantage on these kind of courts and she's playing great at the WTA Finals."
Svitolina not only has the chance to retain the title, but also win a record $4.725 million (Dh17.35m) for winning the tournament without losing a match in the round-robin group stage - not that she is allowing herself to think about that.
"I have an important match tomorrow to win," she said. "For me, I try to take one match at a time. You don't have to think so much ahead."
Updated: November 2, 2019 07:57 PM