Ailing Bianca Andreescu drops WTA Finals debut to Wimbledon champ Halep
Canadian tennis star complains of back pain in losing second straight to top-10 opponent
An ailing Bianca Andreescu will have to try to dig out of an early hole at the WTA Finals, if the Canadian decides she's healthy enough to stay on court.
The 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., lost 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3 to Simona Halep after the Romanian saved a match point in the opening contest for both players on Monday in Shenzhen, China.
Andreescu received treatment on a lower back injury after the second set and appeared to struggle with movement at times in the third set.
After the match, Andreescu said "my back friggin' hurts." Asked if the injury could cause her to drop out of future matches, she said "we'll see."
Andreescu is scheduled to face No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic on Wednesday at either 6:30 a.m. ET or around 8 a.m. Pliskova, who leads the Tour this year with four tournament titles, lost to Andreescu in three sets in the Rogers Cup quarter-finals in August at Toronto.
The $14-million US season-ending tournament splits the top-eight players into two groups — Andreescu, ranked fourth in the world, and No. 5 Halep are in the Purple Group along with No. 8 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine and Pliskova. The red group is comprised of Australia's Ash Barty, Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, Czech Petra Kvitova and Naomi Osaka.
After a round-robin, the top two from each group advance to the semifinals.
"Not much to say really," a disappointed Andreescu said of Monday's game. "It was a good match. She fought really hard. I didn't take my chances in the second set, so I'm really disappointed about that."
WATCH | Bianca Andreescu falls to Simona Halep:
Andreescu said her back hadn't bothered her recently but she did deal with a back issue at the Granby Challenger event in Quebec in July 2018. Earlier this season, Andreescu was sidelined for months with a right shoulder issue and in August was hampered by a groin injury at the Rogers Cup.
"I really don't want to blame my back, but I felt like I didn't have the same power [in the third set] as I did in the first and second set," she said. "But I fought well with what I had in the third. I'm proud of that. Still, pretty disappointed."
Maybe I'll get to play her again here, get my revenge.— Canada's Bianca Andreescu on 2019 Wimbledon champion Simona Halep
Andreescu, coming off a quarter-final defeat to Osaka at the China Open in Beijing, has now lost two matches in a row in the aftermath of a 17-match winning streak. It marks the first time she has lost two in a row since July-August 2018.
It was the first career meeting for Andreescu against a player she grew up cheering for as a youngster. Andreescu's family comes from Romania and the teenager spent some of her childhood in the country.
The match also featured the past two Grand Slam champions — Halep won Wimbledon and Andreescu captured the U.S. Open.
"I didn't feel intimidated at all stepping on the court," Andreescu said. "I know I looked up to her a lot, so being able to play her was really fun. Maybe I'll get to play her again here, get my revenge."
WATCH | Andreescu gets fancy with her shots on Monday:
Halep, with serve, fought off match point in the 12th game of the second set and then put Andreescu away in the tiebreaker on her third set point.
Like Andreescu, Halep also received medical attention after the second set, getting her foot treated.
Halep broke Andreescu to go up 5-3 in the third set and held on serve to finish it in two hours 35 minutes.
"Today was a challenge because she's almost 10 years younger than me," the 28-year-old Halep said. "I was really proud of what I did after having a back injury for almost a month."
Huge forehand winner
The youngest player in the field, Andreescu had a chance to put away Halep in straight sets leading 6-5 in the second set, but brilliant defence by the Romanian and a backhand down the line forced a tiebreaker.
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, by changing the pace of play while mixing in high balls and drop shots to go with a devastating forehand.
The match featured contrasting styles when it came to use of coaches. Halep asked for multiple visits from her coach, Darren Cahill, while Andreescu did not request any chats with her coach, Sylvain Bruneau.
Andreescu is the first Canadian to play in the WTA Finals since Eugenie Bouchard went 0-3 at the event in 2014.
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.
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.
With files from CBC Sports