ZHUHAI, China -- No.7 seed Julia Goerges booked her spot in the semifinals of the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai on Friday, defeating No.1 seed and World No.10 Kristina Mladenovic, 6-2, 7-6(4), to win the Azalea Group with a 2-0 record in the round-robin portion.
Goerges extended her winning streak to seven matches. The German came into Zhuhai having won the last event she contested, the Kremlin Cup in Moscow, which was her first title of the year after losing three finals earlier in 2017.
By winning the Azalea Group, Goerges also completes the final four in Zhuhai, after American CoCo Vandeweghe, Australia's Ashleigh Barty, and Anastasia Sevastova of Latvia won their respective groups yesterday to confirm their positions in the semifinals.
Goerges only needed to win a single set to make the semifinals, but she still fought for the victory. "I really wanted to win that match," Goerges said in her press conference. "It didn't matter if I had to win one set, but I don't want to go out with losing the match and still being in the semifinals. I think that's a bit weird."
Mladenovic, meanwhile, ends her season with a 12-match losing streak, dating back to the CitiOpen in Washington, D.C. in early August. A wonderful start to the year helped her rise into the Top 10 for the first time in her career last month, but the Zhuhai results will cause her to be replaced in this elite bunch by Vandeweghe.
The Frenchwoman had nine double faults in the match, and could only win 20 percent of the points on her second serve. On the other side of the spectrum, Goerges had 31 winners, outnumbering her 23 unforced errors, and won seven of eight points at the net.
Goerges started the match strongly, outpacing the powerful Mladenovic on the forehand side in the first game, and clinching an initial break with a backhand winner down the line. After consolidating the break for a 2-0 lead, Goerges already had six forehand winners.
Mladenovic had a chance to level the set, holding triple break point at 3-2 after some good hitting from the backhand side. But Goerges saved all three, the last by chasing down a Mladenovic drop shot and returning it with a drop shot winner of her own. The German ran off five straight points to hold for 4-2.
The Frenchwoman was deflated by her failure to tie the match. She dropped her serve again, hitting three double faults in the game, including on break point, to give Goerges the 5-2 advantage. Goerges held for the 6-2 lead off of a strong serve.
The second set, though, was much closer. "After the first set, I really tried to hang in there to play every point as in the first set," Goerges told the press. "I lost a bit my focus and a little bit my tension on the body, so I wasn't as sharp as I was in the first set."
Mladenovic took the initial lead in the second set, hoping to prolong the match, as she had done in her first round-robin match against Magdalena Rybarikova. She broke Goerges for a 3-1 lead with a forehand crosscourt winner off of a drop shot.
Goerges quickly broke back for 3-2, but the No.7 seed ceded another lead to the Frenchwoman after being broken at love when serving at 4-3. Nevertheless, Mladenovic blew her chance to serve out the set at 5-3, as it was her turn to be broken at love, throwing two double faults into the game.
The players advanced to 6-6, and Mladenovic started the tiebreak with a miscue by double faulting again, on the first point. Goerges took the initiative, hitting a backhand winner down the line for a 4-1 lead, and claiming a 5-1 advantage off of a Mladenovic forehand error into the net.
Mladenovic won her final two points on serve, with a superb volley and an ace, closing the gap to 5-4. But a backhand service return by the Frenchwoman went long on the next point, giving Goerges two chances to seal victory. The German only required one, hitting a successful volley to close the match.
"[Kiki] really stepped well into the court and moved me more around, which I didn't really quite like, because that's obviously my game," Goerges recalled, regarding the second set. "I tried to make sure that I come on top in the tiebreaker."
Goerges will now face Anastasija Sevastova, the No.5 seed, in the semifinals. Goerges leads the head-to-head 3-2, but all of her wins came in 2011 and 2012, before Sevastova's sabbatical from tennis. Sevastova beat Goerges in the final of the Mallorca Open this year -- their first meeting in five years.
"We know each other for a very long time and have a lot of respect for each other," Goerges said of Sevastova. "She's a very tricky player, and she has had a great season, as well. It's just about battling it out tomorrow and the better one should win."