SHENZHEN, China - After staying toe-to-toe through a nail-biting qualification campaign in the weeks leading up to the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, No.7 seed Belinda Bencic and alternate Kiki Bertens’ are set to cross paths one last time.
This time, the pair will battle for a semifinal spot out of the Red Group - the latest twist in a story of intertwined fates that defined the tail end of the Porsche Race to Shenzhen.
“It's such a coincidence,” Bencic said in a press conference. “I think it was meant to be like this. Yeah, obviously she's a big fighter. She always comes back.”
“I thought I kind of won the fight in Moscow. But she's here again!” Bencic added with a laugh.
Indeed, Bencic and Bertens just couldn’t put any distance between each other as the Asian Swing unfolded and the qualification scenarios began to take shape. Both players were chasing the No.8 spot - then held by Wimbledon and US Open finalist Serena Williams - but a number of dramatic turns had the Porsche Race to Shenzhen coming down to the wire.
In Beijing, an early third-round loss from Bencic put Bertens in prime position to qualify: the Dutch player had to reach the China Open final to claim the No.8 spot, and would have clinched the qualification outright with a title. Instead, her semifinal loss from match point up against Ashleigh Barty opened the door for Bencic to make her move.
After a week of mixed results in Linz, the pair headed to the Kremlin Cup on the last week of the regular season with a clear mission: whoever reaches the final books their trip to Shenzhen. Landing in the same side of the draw in Moscow, the pair were on a collision course to meet in the semifinals, with the winner guaranteed to qualify.
But Bertens suffered a shock defeat to Kristina Mladenovic in three sets in the quarterfinals, and that sent Bencic, the eventual Moscow champion, through to make her WTA Finals debut.
“I just tried everything I think the last few weeks to make Shenzhen, of course,” Bertens said in her WTA Finals press conference. “I had it in my own hands. I just had to win a couple of matches, but that's really tough. Belinda did really well under pressure.
“Of course, once you're in Moscow, you see each other. We were both struggling fourth round. She was hoping I was losing and the other way around, as well, to be honest.”
The pair finally split off as Bertens headed to compete at the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai and Bencic took off for Shenzhen as the WTA Finals’ last qualifier.
“Kiki Bertens, she sent me a nice text after making it. She obviously told me she hoped me to lose, but she still congratulated me and said I deserve it,” Bencic laughed. “This also meant a lot for me because it shows like the sportsmanship and the class she has as a champion.”
“I think in the end she really deserved it,” Bertens elaborated. “If you can reach the final under pressure, afterwards winning the tournament, you deserve to be here. She was just the better player.
“That's what I was texting her: ‘Congrats. I was hoping maybe you lost today, but you really deserved it, enjoy it.’”
But fate had one last twist in store for the two players as the action got underway in Shenzhen and No.3 seed Naomi Osaka found herself being forced to withdraw after contesting her first match. That meant that Bertens, the first alternate, took Osaka’s spot in the Red Group - the same group as Bencic.
“I think everything this week is extra, of course,” Bertens said in a press conference. “I'm a little bit lucky to get in. Unfortunate for Naomi, of course.
“I just take her spot, try to perform as good as I can, try to give all the energy what's left in me.”
With all four players alive in the Red Group with a win and a loss to each, the final round robin clash will pit Bertens and Bencic against each other in a battle for the semifinals - a fitting end to the pair’s neck-and-neck race, said Bencic.
“Obviously really happy and much respect to her,” she said. “But, yeah, it's in our own hands. Whoever wins this match is going to go. I already thought in Moscow it's going to be like this. She lost to Mladenovic. I was prepared already for that match.
“I think it's fair: who wins the match goes.”