ZHUHAI, China - With a 6-3, 6-4 win over Angelique Kerber on Thursday, Ashleigh Barty qualified for the semifinals at the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai on her debut.
With a 2-0 record out of the Rose Group, Barty tops the group to become the first player to advance to the final four this week, as Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova finishes second at 1-1 and Kerber places third at 0-2.
The Australian struck a staggering 35 winners to just 12 unforced errors in a dominant one hour, 11-minute victory, as Kerber posted solid numbers behind 31 winners to 22 unforced.
"It was a tough group for me because I hadn't actually beaten either of those girls," Barty said afterwards. "It's nice to sort of get that revenge this week, but I felt like I served great all week and put myself in a good position in my service games to then be super-aggressive and nice and clear when returning so I can have a little bit more of a crack and see if I can get some of those early breaks in the sets.
"I felt like I served great today and put myself in the right position right from the get-go."
Barty served out the match with back-to-back aces, keeping her hot streak on serve going over her first two matches in Zhuhai. The No.9 seed has served a total of 20 aces in her two group wins, including 11 in Thursday's victory.
"I think I have just become a little bit more consistent with [my serve], and obviously I feel like I'm much stronger this time around to when I was a little bit younger," the World No.20 assessed. "I'm willing to sort of go after my first serve a little bit and still back up my second serve to win more points than not.
"These conditions inside, you can sort of really have a go after your first serve to try and get a little bit of an advantage right from the get-go on the point."
She also recorded her ninth Top 20 win of the season - and her career - with the victory, and second this week.
Over the course of the victory, Barty again saved six of the seven break points she faced, as she did in a 6-4, 6-1 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Wednesday.
A decisive break in the sixth game of the first set went in Barty's favor, as the 21-year-old cruised through her opening service games with three love holds and was never taken to deuce over the course of the first half hour.
The second set proved to be a battle early on, as Kerber hit back after falling behind a break at the close of her first service game.
However, the German won a key five-deuce game on Barty's serve for her first break of the match on her sixth break point, before holding to 15 to take her first lead of the match at the change of ends.
Kerber's momentum appeared to continue into the fourth game, as she rallied to make a 40-0 game a complicated one for Barty. Nonetheless, she came through what became a seven-deuce affair - the longest game of the match - to draw level, and broke in the next game to take a lead she never relinquished.
Kerber could have advanced to the semifinals with a straight sets victory in the match, which would've seen all three competitors in the Rose Group finish with a 1-1 record.
Instead, with a pair of defeats in Zhuhai, the German will fall out of the Top 20 for the first time in five years.
Conversely, Barty - who was ranked outside the world's Top 300 at this time last season - is now inside that group of elite players, and will finish the season as Australia's No.1.
"Probably since Wuhan it's been a bit of a change for me to play four or five, six really good matches in a row against quality opponents and really feel comfortable on the court," she said.
"I think for me that week was a big week in my career, and, yeah, I just feel like now when I walk out on the court I'm comfortable and confident against whoever I play."