In a first meeting between the two young players, each will chase their first WTA Premier 5 trophy.
Sabalenka, age just 20 and Wuhan’s youngest singles finalist, came from behind in a tight first set to overcome Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, 7-6(2), 6-4, in their semi-final.
Sabalenka’s trademark big-hitting mixed with guile and patience proved too much for the talented Australian, who had been the only seed to get beyond the third round at the prestigious Chinese tournament.
The Belarusian, currently ranked 20 but heading to a new career-high No17, said:
“Well, probably was nervous and I couldn’t find my serve. Then, when I had nothing to lose, then I start to put it in. I was just, like, relaxed. Probably before the match I really, really want it. That makes me, like, crazy a little bit.
“Tomorrow it’s another chance to take one more title. I hope I will come on the court without any nerves. I will just try to show my best and enjoy it. [Anett] has a good serve. Well, she’s a great player. She’s in the final, of course, she’s great. It will be another tough match.”
Kontaveit, 22, moved through to what will be the biggest WTA Tour final of her career when China’s Qiang Wang was hit by injury after the first set of their semi-final.
Wang, who took the title in last week’s Guangzhou International Women’s Open, had her winning run on home soil ended by a left thigh injury. She was clearly hampered in the match, and took extended treatment before finally succumbing at 2-6, 1-2 down.
This marks a significant week for Kontaveit, who knocked out former US Open champion Sloane Stephens in the first round in Wuhan. Her run to the final will send her to a new career high as well, to 21. She said:
“From the beginning of the season, the goal has been top 20 for this year. Yeah, it’s my first final this year. Of course, it’s really exciting. My first final in such a big tournament, it’s definitely special. I’m going to have a good match tomorrow. Again, a tough opponent. I’m just going to try to enjoy it.
“I think my game was there the whole summer. I just had some really close losses. This week I’ve been really turning them around. I think the first match maybe gave me some confidence—I think I built well on that.”
Whoever wins on Saturday is destined to become Wuhan’s youngest ever singles champion. Last year’s champion, Caroline Garcia, was previously the youngest at 24.
Belgians Elise Mertens and Demi Schurrs will take on Czech pairing of Andrea Sestini Hlavackova and Barbora Strycova for the doubles title. Mertens and Schurrs can qualify for the WTA Finals in Singapore if the win; Hlavackova and Strycova’s Singapore spot was confirmed when they advanced to the final via a walkover.
Aryna Sabalenka, Belarus, age 20, ranking 20
WTA titles: New Haven 2018
WTA finals: Tianjin 2017, Lugano and Eastbourne 2018
Anett Kontaveit, Estonia, age 22, ranking 27
WTA titles: S’Hertogenbosch 2017
WTA finals: Biel and Gstaad 2017
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BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge
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