The Huajin Securities WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai got underway on Tuesday with Venus Williams, Jelena Jankovic and Elina Svitolina all scoring wins. Despite being a bit on the fence with this tournament, the early signs are favourable; it’s a great stadium and it was pretty well attended (well, better than I expected!). The fans certainly seemed to be enjoying the tennis by the sounds of it. Furthermore, it’s a quick court which is a welcome sight. There’s no coincidence that most of my favourite matches always seem to end up on faster courts and I think it lends itself to higher quality matches. I just wish Zhuhai had been the week before Singapore!
I was looking forward to watching back the first match of the day, perhaps the best group match of them all, featuring Venus Williams and Madison Keys. I was disappointed I couldn’t find the match on the TennisTV catch-up function! Venus and Madison are joined in their group by the wildcard, Saisai Zheng and this was, therefore, a pivotal match. Keys started well but it was Venus who pulled through in the end, winning 3-6 7-6(5) 6-1 in two hours and nine minutes. It was a shame to see such a one-sided third set after Keys had come within two points of the win.
The last match of the day saw Elina Svitolina edge Andrea Petkovic in two tight sets, 7-6(4) 6-3. It was Petkovic’s sixth defeat in her last eight matches. It’s been a worrying time for Petko but I hope the off-season will recharge her batteries ready for 2016. It was a solid win for Svitolina who is set to continue her year after Zhuhai at two WTA 125K events in Limoges and Carlsbad.
In the second match of the day, the only one that I did get to watch, Jelena Jankovic ended a run of three straight losses to secure a noteworthy win over Sara Errani. Jankovic battled through, 6-4 7-5 in an exhausting match that went over the two hour mark. It was an excellent encounter, full of long and absorbing rallies. The first set featured an eight deuce game with Errani serving at *3-5. The Italian player saved four set points to hold. Unsurprisingly she then broke to love in the next game when Jankovic served for the match… and even more unsurprising was that Errani failed to hold at *4-5 with Jankovic taking the opening set, 6-4.
Errani’s serve takes a battering from the fans and it’s an obvious, glaring weakness. I’m sure i’ve read that she has a shoulder condition, which may help to explain why it has regressed over the year. It also seems to be a case of the yips, particularly with the ball toss, which has become more and more errant with time. Understandably it gets worse under pressure with the scoreline but you can tell that it’s obviously a big factor in her mind. If you look at it from a different and more positive angle, it’s quite an achievement that Errani has had such a tremendous career with this serve. Errani is set to finish in the world’s top 20 for the fourth consecutive year. It highlights how strong the rest of her game is, particularly the consistency of her ball striking from the baseline and her net skills.
In the second set, another gruelling affair, Jankovic ended up in a heap on the floor when she went over on her ankle. It didn’t look too bad and she immediately responded with three superb points to erase Errani’s early break of serve. Jankovic appeared to be struggling physically and was constantly trying to catch her breath. Errani had four break points at 4-4 including a *0-40 opening; an ace erased the fourth of the break points and a trademark backhand down-the-line secured the game for Jankovic. JJ had a match point at 5-4 with Errani serving but went long on another bruising point.
Errani worked up two more break points at 5-5 but once again couldn’t take them. The Italian player threw in a tame final game, going into the net on the last point to hand Jankovic the win. It was a thoroughly entertaining match and well worth a watch back!
Wednesday’s order of play opens with Svetlana Kuznetsova against Roberta Vinci in the first match from Group D. This will be the pair’s sixth encounter with Kuznetsova leading the head-to-head, 3-2, and prevailing in their last match in Moscow two years ago. The second match features Jelena Jankovic in action again against Karolina Pliskova. I’m surprised this match is taking place before Errani-Pliskova as a Jankovic win would result in Errani-Pliskova being a dead rubber. I changed my mind from my last post where I had Pliskova to make the semi-finals (now going JJ!). However, I wonder if that long match against Errani will have an impact on Jankovic. In their only previous encounter, Jankovic defeated Pliskova, 6-2 3-6 7-5 in Cincy. Pliskova crumbled in the third set having had a significant lead. The fast court in Zhuhai should help Pliskova out but i’d probably still go for JJ.
The final match of the day sees Petkovic play Carla Suárez Navarro. Petko’s not playing well at the moment but CSN must be knackered having played Moscow, Singapore (in doubles) and now Zhuhai. I’d still probably give the Spaniard the edge in that one…