SINGAPORE, Oct 27, (Agencies): Maria Sharapova continued her mastery of Romania’s Simona Halep with a high quality 6-4 6-4 victory filled with bruising baseline rallies to edge closer to a last four berth at the WTA Finals on Tuesday.
The Russian world number four topped the Red Group at the eight women end-of-season finals with her second win and next faces US Open champion Flavia Pennetta, who said she would retire after the tournament, with a semi-final spot on the line.
The 33-year-old Italian had earlier kept alive her WTA Finals bid with a flurry of backhand winners as she downed a strapped up and fatigued Agnieszka Radwanska 7-6(5) 6-4 to leave the Pole bottom of the standings with two defeats.
It was Pennetta’s first win in the group — she was blown away by top seed Halep 6-0 6-3 in her opener on Sunday — with her backhand proving a particularly devastating weapon at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Sharapova’s win over the Romanian means all four players in the group still hold hopes of grabbing one of two semi-final spots available and Pennetta said she had been impressed by the Russian, who has been hit with injury problems since Wimbledon.
“She has this adrenaline because she was out for three or four months, something like that,” the Italian told reporters. “When you come in the court after so long you are with a lot of energy. It’s going to be tough for sure.”
In Basel, Switzerland, Rafael Nadal rallied from the depths to narrowly prevent a repeat of one of his worst career losses as he beat Lukas Rosol 1-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7/4) at the Swiss Indoors on Monday.
Three years ago, the then number 69 journeyman famously upset world number two Nadal in the 2012 Wimbledon second round. This time, Nadal had to make numerous recoveries, the last from 4-2 down in the final-set tiebreaker, before finally prevailing.
“I thought I was out of here,” said Nadal after his narrow first-round escape.
“It was the first match on indoor hardcourt for me in almost a year.
“He’s tough to play, he came to the court with big confidence. He was trying to hit the ball hard on every shot.
“I had a tough time adjusting. I just tried to survive the second set and wait for my opportiunities. I’m very happy to have survived and still be playing.”
World number seven Nadal escaped a repeat disappointment after losing in the first round here 12 years ago to countryman Feliciano Lopez. He made a dismal start as he lost the opening set in just 23 minutes.
The third seed, whose game looked a shambles through much of the first two sets, finally came to life in the nick of time, breaking Rosol with the Czech leading 5-4 and serving for the match.
Nadal, whose first forehand winner only came in the first game of the second set, found a backhand winner down the line to break for 5-5. The former world number one and 14-time Grand Slam winner then seized the momentum with a break in the final game on a third match point as his nervous opponent double-faulted.
Nadal found his form, breaking Rosol for 2-0 and saving a pair of break points for a 3-0 lead.
But he lost the momentum and the set went into a tiebreaker, which the Czech led 4-2. Nadal slowly reeled in the potential spoiler, claiming a match point at 5-4 and finishing it off seconds later.
“I was only thinking about trying to find a way to win the next point,” Nadal said, adding that he has come back a lot of times in tough situations, but this year has been different.
“I’ve lost matches that I was winning. But the last few weeks have helped for building the confidence. And the crowd support was very important for me.”
In Valencia, Spain, Aljaz Bedene of Britain won 12 of the last 15 games Tuesday to beat eighth-seeded Jeremy Chardy of France 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 in the first round of the Valencia Open.
The Slovenia-born Briton, who had 14 aces, will next face Vasek Pospisil of Canada. Bedene won their only previous meeting at the 2014 Sony Ericsson Open.
Retiring veteran Lleyton Hewitt was Tuesday appointed Australia’s new Davis Cup captain, succeeding interim skipper Wally Masur.
The 34-year-old, who is calling it quits after his 20th consecutive Australian Open in January, has been positioned for the role since Pat Rafter stepped down earlier this year. Masur agreed to fill in until Hewitt was ready.
He follows in the footsteps of other Australian tennis greats to hold the coveted role, including Neale Fraser, John Newcombe and Rafter, and becomes the youngest skipper since World War II.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to work under some of the greatest Davis Cup captains in history,” Hewitt said at Melbourne Park.
“For me, it’s about instilling my experience in these younger guys.”
A veteran of 40 ties over a record 17 years’ service, Hewitt will lead young guns including Bernard Tomic, Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Rafter, now Tennis Australia’s director of player performance, said Hewitt’s biggest asset was his passion.
“That has never waned for him throughout his whole career and I don’t think it’s going to wane now,” Rafter said.
Hewitt’s first tie in charge will be next March when Australia host the USA in a first-round fixture.
Australia reached the semi-finals this year, with Hewitt playing, only to be knocked out the Andy Murray-led Great Britain.