Tennis: Kasatkina hangs on in Zhuhai despite Wang fightback

Kasatkina hits a return against Wang Qiang of China in their first-round match of the Zhuhai Elite Trophy tournament,
Kasatkina hits a return against Wang Qiang of China in their first-round match of the Zhuhai Elite Trophy tournament,PHOTO: AFP

ZHUHAI, China (AFP) - Top seed Daria Kasatkina survived a scare on Tuesday (Oct 30) to claim victory over crowd favourite Wang Qiang in a thrilling contest at the WTA Elite Trophy in China, taking the match 6-1, 2-6, 7-5.

The 21-year-old Russian looked totally dominant in the early stages in Zhuhai, wrapping up the first set against the Chinese eleventh seed in just 26 minutes.

But the vocal supporters at the Hengqin International Tennis Center were given something to cheer about when Wang, 26, broke all four of Kasatkina's service games to claim the second set.

The deciding set saw some breathtaking points and rallies as each player tried to break the deadlock, but nerves appeared to take hold as both failed to win almost any of their service games.

Finally, after almost two hours on court, it was Kasatkina who held on to her serve at the crucial time to take the third and final set 7-5.

Tuesday night's clash was their first round robin match, with both yet to play American Madison Keys, ranked 16th in the world.

Earlier, big-hitting Aryna Sabalenka, 20, was too strong for Australia's Ashleigh Barty, 22, in the opening singles clash, taking the match 6-4, 6-4.

The pair produced some spectacular base-line battles, but Sabalenka, from Belarus, turned the screws on to see out the match in one hour, 26 minutes.

They are both yet to play eighth seed and world number 18 Caroline Garcia from France in their round robin group.

"I think I played well in the first set, and in the second set I probably started to rush a little bit and make a lot of mistakes, and kind of stupid mistakes," Sabalenka said after the match.

"But I think the game was quite good, just a few... stupid moments." Barty said: "I'm disappointed not to come away with the win, but I'll have another opportunity in the next few days to try and finish my season on a real high."

Asked about the strength of the field in Zhuhai, the 2017 semi-finalist said: "It's phenomenal. I think last year was good, but this year's another level.

"It's really exciting for the women's game. We have the top 20 players in the world this year who are fighting right until the end of the season, which is really positive."

In Tuesday's second singles match, fourth seed Elise Mertens from Belgium comfortably beat Estonia's Anett Kontaveit, the tenth seed, 6-3, 6-1.

Now in its fourth year the Elite Trophy features 12 players ranked roughly from nine to 20. This year's total prize money is US$2.35 million (S$3.2 million) across the singles and doubles tournaments.