SHENZHEN • World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty spectacularly ended her jinx against defending champion Elina Svitolina to win the WTA Finals yesterday and scoop the richest prize in tennis history.
The Australian, who had never beaten the Ukrainian in five previous attempts, won 6-4, 6-3 in one hour and 26 minutes at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre to land the record US$4.42 million (S$6 million) winner's cheque - the largest sum awarded in men's and women's tennis.
Barty's only loss was to late replacement Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands as she became the fifth debutant - and first since Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova in 2016 - to win the lucrative round-robin season finale.
Calling it "the most incredible year for me", the French Open champion said: "Thank you to the city of Shenzhen. It's been an incredible new era in women's tennis and to play in front of this spectacular crowd has been amazing.
"Congratulations to Elina and your team. You've had an exceptional year and you're one of the toughest competitors on the Tour. I know that we will have many more battles in the future."
While Svitolina has yet to win a trophy since the WTA Finals in Singapore last year, which remains the biggest title of her career, she lost only one set en route to the final.
The world No. 8 seemed at home on the slow indoor hard court, despite other players criticising the playing surface, and her methodical counter-punching was too much for all but one of her opponents.
A RIVALRY FOR THE AGES
Congratulations to Elina (Svitolina) and your team. You've had an exceptional year and you're one of the toughest competitors on the Tour. I know that we will have many more battles in the future.
ASHLEIGH BARTY, complimenting her opponent after winning the WTA Finals and looking forward to future duels with her.
While Barty, who is the first Australian to win the WTA Finals since Evonne Goolagong Cawley claimed her second title in 1976, faced trouble in the ninth game, she saved a break point and dug deep when it mattered most to fend off Svitolina's defensive prowess.
She attacked her opponent's serve in the 10th game before claiming the first set with a sizzling forehand winner.
In the second set, Svitolina was gifted a break in the third game through a Barty double fault, but could not consolidate on serve and the latter captured another break in the eighth game before serving it out to cap a momentous season.
Tipping her hat to her opponent, who will also end the year as the top-ranked women's player, the deposed champion said: "It definitely was a great week for me.
"She had a great tournament and an amazing year."
Barty's outstanding year is set to continue when she spearheads her country's Fed Cup title hopes against France in the Nov 9-10 final.
This was the first WTA Finals tournament to be played in China after a five-year run in Singapore and the competition will be based in Shenzhen until 2028.
The move was underlined by an eye-watering total prize pool of US$14 million - more than any other tennis event.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA