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Bianca Andreescu drops WTA Finals debut to Wimbledon champ Halep

Dominant much of the season against tennis’ elite, Canada’s Bianca Andreescu dropped her second straight match against such an opponent in her opening match at the WTA Finals on Monday as fifth-ranked Simona Halep prevailed 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-3 in Shenzhen, China.

Andreescu, the world No. 4 ahead of her debut at the season-ending tournament, was coming off a quarter-final loss to Naomi Osaka at the China Open in Beijing earlier this month and sports a 9-2 record versus top-10 players in 2019 and 48-6 overall.

A weary-looking Andreescu,who has won 17 of her last 19 main draw matches, took to the court for the third set and needed to have her lower back assessed by a trainer with Halep holding a 3-2 advantage.

Andreescu closed to within 4-3 on a crosscourt forehand return winner but Halep wore her down with each shot of long rallies, broke Andreescu to go up 5-3 and held on serve to win in two hours 35 minutes.

“It was a very tough match,” Halep said. “I knew that she’s a great player and she’s playing till the end without giving up. I had to fight.”

Andreescu was sidelined for months with a right shoulder problem earlier this season before returning in August to beat Serena Williams at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, where the Canadian was hampered by a groin injury. In July 2018, Andreescu dealt with a back issue at the Granby Challenger event in Quebec.

WATCH | Bianca Andreescu outlasted by Simona Halep:

Simona Halep beat Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-3 in their opening match of the WTA Finals. 0:41

Huge forehand winner

The youngest player in the field in Shenzhen, the 19-year-old Andreescu had a chance to put away Halep in straight sets leading 6-5 in the second set, but brilliant defence by the 28-year-old Romanian and a backhand down the line forced a tiebreaker.

A resilient Andreescu used a huge forehand winner to even the tiebreaker 3-3 after being down 3-0, but Halep’s ability to return several defensive shots was the difference.

Andreescu excelled during the opening set, save for a two-game stretch, as the Mississauga, Ont.-born player also of Romanian descent changed the pace of play while mixing in high balls and drop shot to go with a devastating forehand.

The WTA Finals, which features the top-eight players in the woman’s game, is split into two groups and follows a round-robin format. Andreescu is in the purple group with No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, No. 8 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine and Halep. The red group is comprised of Australia’s Ash Barty, Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, Czech Petra Kvitova and Osaka.

The top two in each group advance to the semifinals.

Andreescu is attempting to complete a sensational season with a fourth title following victories at Indian Wells, the Rogers Cup and U.S. Open in New York, where she defeated 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in early September to become the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles title.

The loss to Osaka was Andreescu’s first on the Tour in six months not counting withdrawals and retirements and halted a 17-match win streak that saw the resident of Thornhill, Ont., soar up the WTA rankings. Her current ranking is the best ever by a Canadian woman and she has a chance to top the No. 3 ranking Milos Raonic achieved on the men’s tour.

Andreescu is the first Canadian to play in the WTA Finals since Eugenie Bouchard in 2014.

Svitolina extends WTA Finals run

Svitolina, the defending champion, stretched her unbeaten run at the WTA Finals into a new year, beating Pliskova 7-6 (12), 6-4 in her opening match Monday.

Svitolina, the only player in this year’s field who has not won a title this season, was unbeaten in the tournament last year.

After exchanging service breaks in the first set, Svitolina converted her seventh set point. Pliskova also had a chance to take the first set, but she failed to take advantage of a set point at 9-8 in the tiebreaker.

Svitolina then jumped ahead 2-0 in the second set and then broke again for a 4-3 lead.

The victory gives Svitolina a 1-0 record in the Purple Group, while Pliskova is 0-1.

Pliskova, who had won all three of her previous opening matches at the WTA Finals, leads the tour with four titles this season — winning in Brisbane, Rome, Eastbourne and Zhengzhou. She also leads the tour with most aces served at 481.