There were no nerves on show for two of the newcomers to this year’s season-ending finale, as Ashleigh Barty and Belinda Bencic started their opening campaigns at this year’s tournament.
In a competitive first set with one break point chance early for Barty, it took Bencic to convert her first chance in the set at the end to gain an advantage before serving out for the first set.
Barty has been nothing if not resolute this year, coming from a set down, and dominated as she settled into her serving, swiftly breaking twice and getting over the line on her third set point to bring things all-square.
With Bencic struggling with blisters on her foot, Barty eased into the next round with a convincing win.
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Barty: ‘I think this is more for them than for me.’
Barty is no stranger to the format having been to the WTA Finals before in doubles, and perhaps that mind-set will help as she is assured of the year-end World No. 1 ranking as long as she steps onto the court on Tuesday and wins one point.
As always, taking it in her stride, she said: “It’s pretty neat. It’s been an incredible year, it really has. I think it’s a bit of a bonus to be able to finish year-end world No. 1. It certainly wasn’t something that was in my realm at the start of the year. It’s really exciting.
“I think first and foremost, we’d love to finish off the week here really strongly, then we can worry about celebrating that little thing. Very, very cool for myself, my team. The amount of work and effort we all put in, it does take a village. I have an incredible team of people around me. I think this is more for them than for me.”
Even in the run up to making the line-up, the emotions were very clear for Bencic, who can wear her heart on her sleeve at times. Although obviously disappointed not to have gained a win after such a tight first set, she still is very much in this tournament.
Conventionally the winners and losers play each other, but often much is made of the element of ‘surprise’ at the second round-robin, which prompted Bencic to explain it to reporters in intricate detail!
“It’s kind of to make it not decided yet. The losers play each other and the winners play each other. One of them loses, so it’s exciting for you till the end.”
She continued: “It’s really special. I lost, but I can still have a chance. That’s what my team kind of told me when I got out. They were super positive because I played so well. I don’t know, it wasn’t enough.
“Still I have a next chance. They told me right away, C’mon, you’re still in, playing very well. They were very proud of me. Positivity is the key, so hopefully I can win the next match like this.”
Barty will face Naomi Osaka on Tuesday, and Bencic will play Petra Kvitova.
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