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Sabalenka edges out Barty in Zhuhai opener

Zhuhai, China: Big-hitting Aryna Sabalenka was too strong for Ashleigh Barty in the opening singles clash of the WTA Elite Trophy in China on Tuesday, taking the match 6-4, 6-4.

The tournament's youngest player produced some typically aggressive tennis in Zhuhai, showing the form that has seen her shoot up the world rankings from 39th to 12th place in just three months.

Belarus's Sabalenka, 20, made the most of breaking Australian Barty, 22, in the very first game of the match, seeing out a nip-and-tuck opening set.

In-form Sabalenka looked the more confident of the two in the early stages, and the third seed held her nerve to pull out her first two aces to clinch the set.

Ninth seed Barty took the initiative in the second set, breaking in the fourth game, only for Sabalenka to break back in Barty's two following service games.

The pair produced some thrilling base-line battles for the spectators at the Hengqin International Tennis Center, but Sabalenka turned the screw to see out the match in one hour, 26 minutes.

Their clash was their first round robin match, with both yet to play eighth seed and world number 18 Caroline Garcia from France.

"I think I played well in the first set, and in the second set I probably started to rush a little bit and make a lot of mistakes, and kind of stupid mistakes," Sabalenka said after the match. 

"But I think the game was quite good, just a few a stupid moments."

Barty said: "I'm disappointed not to come away with the win, but I'll have another opportunity in the next few days to try and finish my season on a real high."

Asked about the strength of the field in Zhuhai, the 2017 semi-finalist said: "It’s phenomenal. I think last year was good, but this year's another level.

"It's really exciting for the women's game. We have the top 20 players in the world this year who are fighting right until the end of the season, which is really positive."

In Tuesday's second singles match, fourth seed Elise Mertens from Belgium comfortably beat Estonia's Anett Kontaveit, the tenth seed, 6-3, 6-1.

Now in its fourth year the Elite Trophy features 12 players ranked roughly from nine to 20. This year's total prize money is $2.35 million across the singles and doubles tournaments.

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