No.6 seed Daria Kasatkina became the first player through to the Huafa Technology WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai semifinals after defeating No.11 seed Magda Linette 6-3, 6-4 in 2 hours and 9 minutes.
Kasatkina was followed by No.3 seed Jelena Ostapenko, who opened her Zhuhai campaign by coming from a set and a break down to defeat No.10 seed Donna Vekic 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in 1 hour and 56 minutes. Vekic, who lost to No.7 seed Zheng Qinwen in three sets on Wednesday, is now out of the tournament with a 0-2 record. The Orchid Group semifinalist will be decided by Ostapenko's match with Zheng on Friday.
In Thursday's night session, No.4 seed Liudmila Samsonova defeated wild card Zhu Lin 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 in the Rose Group. That group's semifinalist will also be decided on Friday. Samsonova could seal the semifinal spot if she wins her second round-robin match over Veronika Kudermetova on Friday.
Having already beaten No.1 seed Barbora Krejcikova 7-5, 1-6, 6-1 on Wednesday, Kasatkina tops the Azalea Group with an unbeaten 2-0 record. Krejcikova and Linette are both out of the tournament. It is a career-best performance in Zhuhai for Kasatkina, who fell in the round-robin stage here in her only previous appearance in 2018.
Kasatkina improves to 3-2 overall against Linette, whom she previously defeated in the 2021 San Jose quarterfinals and in their last meeting, in the second round of the 2022 Australian Open. The 26-year-old advances to her fifth semifinal of 2023; following her run to the last four in Zhengzhou two weeks ago, it is the first time Kasatkina has made the semifinals in consecutive tournaments since Rome and Roland Garros 2022.
How Kasatkina defeated Linette: In keeping with her performance against Krejcikova, Kasatkina found that an aggressive approach in which she committed to going after her forehand paid dividends. In a match characterized by patient point construction, she found 24 winners to Linette's 21.
Though service holds were not at a premium in a contest that featured 13 breaks in total, Kasatkina managed the scoreboard momentum efficiently. In the first set, she came through a gruelling nine-deuce service game in which she served two aces to hold for 5-1 -- a crucial lead that ensured Linette's late charge in the set couldn't make up the gap.
In the second set, it was Linette's turn to battle through two marathon games, navigating nine deuces across the first two games to edge out to a 2-0 lead. But the Pole was unable to sustain the necessary intensity to sustain that lead, and Kasatkina responded with four straight games to take control again.
Kasatkina's serve became unreliable in the home stretch, and from 4-2 she conceded her delivery twice. But on return, she was sharp and free-swinging: from 2-0 down, Kasatkina won 16 of the last 18 points on Linette's serve.
How Ostapenko defeated Vekic: Ostapenko raced out of the blocks with an array of winners from all corners of the court, including an unexpected sliced backhand knifed down the line in the second game. But after an early exchange of breaks, Vekic's approach of solid serving and watertight play off the ground paid off.
The Croat found just six winners in the set compared to Ostapenko's 13, but also kept her error count down to eight compared to her opponent's 15. A double fault and a netted forehand from Ostapenko at 4-4 sealed the key break for Vekic.
Highlights: Ostapenko d. Vekic
But facing a point to go down 2-0 in the second set, Ostapenko found a spectacular forehand winner on the run, and from that point took back control. On her second set point at 5-4 on Vekic's serve, the Latvian triumphed in a high-octane 21-shot rally, the longest of the match, after a Vekic backhand went wide.
Indeed, from 4-4 in the second set, Ostapenko rattled off seven straight games, and eight of the last nine, with lights-out ball-striking. She finished the match with 37 winners to 31 unforced errors, while a fading Vekic racked up 30 unforced errors to outweigh 22 winners.
How Samsonova defeated Zhu: In the night session, Samsonova avenged a loss to Zhu in their only prior meeting, which came at 2019 Dubai qualifying.
Samsonova continued her strong hard-court play in 2023 with the comeback victory over Zhu in just under two hours. 26 of Samsonova's 33 match-wins this year have come on hard courts.
Zhu played the tidier first set, as Samsonova racked up 20 unforced errors in the opening frame. Samsonova failed to capitalize on any of her three break points in the opener.
However, it was a complete reversal after that, as Samsonova's power game clicked into place. In the second set, Samsonova fired 16 winners to Zhu's three, and the fourth seed converted both of her break points.
After an exchange of breaks to kick off the decider, Samsonova reeled off the last five games of the match to kick off her round-robin play in Zhuhai with a win.