Simona Halep was branded an "absolute disgrace" by coach Darren Cahill as Karolina Pliskova came out on top in a crucial round-robin WTA Finals clash to reach the last four.

Pliskova and Halep went into the last Purple Group contest in Shenzhen on Friday knowing the winner would face top seed Ashleigh Barty at the semi-final stage and the loser's season was over.

Halep fought back following the humiliation of a first-set bagel, but Pliskova came from a break down in the final set to win 6-0 2-6 6-4.

The Wimbledon champion rallied following some words of wisdom from Cahill at the end of the first set, but the Australian said she had been "an absolute disgrace" over a critical three-game spell during another on-court coaching session after she squandered a lead in the final set.

Second seed Pliskova blew away an out-of-sorts Halep in the first set, the Czech losing just two service points after an aggressive start.

A forehand into the net put Halep a break down and Pliskova continued to return with vigour, toying with the Romanian as she took just 21 minutes to wrap up the set.

Halep heeded Cahill's advice by using more spin and taking pace of the ball as she broke in the opening game of the second set and showed character to edge a break up at 3-2 after Pliskova got back on serve.

Pliskova was unable to halt Halep's momentum and the fifth seed levelled the match with an ace before taking a 2-0 lead in the decider.

Yet Pliskova responded by winning five games in a row, peppering Halep with searing ground strokes and coming to the net at every opportunity.

Cahill's harsh words at 3-2 failed to prompt a positive reaction from Halep, and although she was able to get back on serve at 5-4, she was broken for the third time in the final set and bowed out when Pliskova had fortune with a netcord winner.

Defending champion Elina Svitolina earlier made it three wins out of three with a 7-5 7-6 (12-10) defeat of alternate Sofia Kenin and will take on Belinda Bencic for a place in the final.

Bianca Andreescu failed to shake off a knee injury as she fell to a third straight defeat and departed the WTA Finals, where defending champion Elina Svitolina advanced from the Purple Group.

US Open champion Andreescu, still just 19, had been enjoying an incredible 17-match winning run on the WTA Tour until coming up short in a gripping encounter against Naomi Osaka at the China Open.

The Canadian did not play again until this week's year-end Finals, making a losing return in a narrow defeat to idol Simona Halep.

And any hopes of Andreescu arresting that mini-slump were ended by an issue with her left knee in Shenzhen as she bowed out to world number two Karolina Pliskova.

Andreescu, needing to win to stay in the tournament, broke in the first game of the match but was soon limping, retreating to her seat and calling a medical timeout.

Heavy strapping was applied to the teenager's knee, yet she continued to move uneasily as she sought to continue, seeing Pliskova break back immediately.

Andreescu told Sylvain Bruneau she "heard a crack" and was struggling to bend her knee but insisted she was still capable of beating Pliskova despite the advice of her coach.

"I don't want to stop," she said. "If it was against Simona, then okay. But [Pliskova] misses."

Andreescu showed grit to then hold after saving three break points, but it was only a temporary reprieve as Pliskova sent down a backhand return to seize the advantage in her opponent's next service game.

Pliskova held to take the set 6-3 and Andreescu finally gave in, retiring for a defeat that sees her out of the competition as the Czech faces Halep for a place in the last four.

Halep had wasted an opportunity to book her spot in the semi-finals early on Wednesday when she was beaten 7-5 6-3 by Svitolina.

The Wimbledon champion battled back from 3-0 down early on but then missed the chance to break in front with a poor call on a drop shot, subsequently losing the opener with an error-strewn final service game.

Having been behind throughout the first set, Halep led in the second with a break to love but was quickly pegged back, soon complaining to coach Darren Cahill that she felt unable to disrupt Svitolina's game.

Svitolina, who defeated Sloane Stephens in the 2018 final, preyed on more Halep mistakes to break in front and wrapped up a relatively comfortable triumph in straight sets.

Simona Halep came from a set down to claim a gripping 3-6 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 victory over Bianca Andreescu at the WTA Finals.

Halep was forced to hang in the contest as Andreescu breezed her way to the opener and was afforded match point before the second set went to a tiebreak.

But 28-year-old's trademark tenacity gradually pulled the argument in her favour as her ebullient foe was compromised by back problems down the stretch.

Andreescu had spoken of her excitement at facing Halep for the first time in her career but this did not extend to reverence of any sort during the contest.

The 19-year-old's blistering ground strokes were to the fore, but she also played with a variety that never allowed Halep to settle during an opening set she won in 39 minutes.

Halep secured an early break in the second but ceded it when Andreescu pulled level at 4-4 – the game after the Wimbledon champion was seemingly irritated by her opponent pulling off a through-the-legs tweener shot.

Andreescu was unable to take a match point at advantage on the Halep serve and the Romanian raced into a 3-0 lead in the tie-break.

Halep then converted her third set point, after which Andreescu received treatment for the first time.

When the trainer came on again immediately before a break for Halep, Andreescu's race appeared to be run – only for her to stunningly get back on terms to 15.

A third straight break followed, however, and Halep would not be denied, clattering home the first of three match points to conclude a captivating two-and-a-half hours.

Up next for Halep in the Purple Group is Elina Svitolina, who began the defence of her title with a straight-sets win over Karolina Pliskova, a titanic first-set tie-break proving pivotal to a 7-6 (14-12) 6-4 win.

Pliskova broke in the opening game but too often produced lackadaisical tennis as she failed to build upon the advantage, not least when Svitolina took the second of two break points for 2-2.

A breaker of epic proportions was eventually taken by Svitolina, the frontrunner throughout converting a seventh set point having only had to save one conceded to Pliskova.

The Czech won three straight games from 2-0 down in the second but Svitolina broke back for 3-3 and came through some stern examinations of her serve before sealing victory when Pliskova sent a return into the net.

World number one Ashleigh Barty has been drawn to face Naomi Osaka in the round-robin stage of the WTA Finals in Shenzhen.

French Open champion and top seed Barty will come up against two-time grand slam winners Osaka and Petra Kvitova, along with seventh seed Belinda Bencic in the Red Group.

Barty was on Friday announced as the winner of the Race to Shenzhen ahead of Karolina Pliskova and hopes to celebrate by being crowned champion in her singles debut at the season-ending tournament in China.

"It was already an honour to qualify for the WTA Finals, but to also finish the Race to Shenzhen on top is an achievement I'm incredibly proud of," the Australian said. 

"This is a special tournament for myself and my team and I’ll be fighting hard to finish the WTA season with the Shenzhen title."

Pliskova will take on defending champion Elina Svitolina, Simona Halep and Bianca Andreescu in the Purple Group.

US Open champion Andreescu and 22-year-old Swiss Bencic will be making their debuts in the tournament.

Osaka and Kvitova meet in the first match of the event on Sunday.

Veronika Kudermetova upset top seed Elina Svitolina in the second round of the Kremlin Cup and Jelena Ostapenko fought back to knock Elise Mertens out of the Luxembourg Open on Thursday.

Kudermetova came out on top in her first match against a top-five opponent, defeating Svitolina 6-1 2-6 7-5 in Moscow.

The 22-year-old Russian wrapped up the opening set in only 28 minutes and came from 2-0 down in the decider to move into the quarter-finals.

Kudermetova's attacking approach paid off, world number four Svitolina showing resolve in the final set but missing out on a last-eight showdown with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Second seed Kiki Bertens advanced with 4-6 6-3 7-5 victory over Kaia Kanepi, while Pavlyuchenkova won an all-Russian contest with Varvara Gracheva 5-7 6-4 6-2.

Kristina Mladenovic will face Bertens after battling her way past sixth seed Anastasija Sevastova 7-5 3-6 6-3.

The top seed also bowed out Luxembourg, with Ostapenko digging deep to see off Mertens 4-6 6-2 6-2.

Ostapenko, runner-up to Coco Gauff at the Linz Open last weekend, will now come up against Antonia Lottner, who went through when Andrea Petkovic retired with a knee injury after losing the first set 6-1.

Defending champion Julie Goerges saw off Sorana Cirstea 4-6 6-4 6-4, while Anna Blinkova and Monica Puig also made it through, defeating Kristyna Pliskova 7-6 (7-5) 3-6 7-6 (8-6). 

Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina eased their way into the second round of the China Open, though Venus Williams had to battle to secure her place.

Fresh from her victory in the Pan Pacific Open, Osaka overcame Jessica Pegula 6-3 7-6 (7-5), while Wimbledon champion Halep made light work of Rebecca Peterson.

Third seed Svitolina found matters slightly more taxing against Anastasija Sevastova, coming from a set down to win 6-7 (4-7) 6-1 6-2.

Angelique Kerber, too, needed three sets to get the better of Chinese number two Zheng Shuai, though it was former world number one Williams who had the toughest test.

The 39-year-old was 5-3 down to Barbora Strycova in the final set, but clawed her way back to triumph 6-3 4-6 7-5.

Williams' compatriot Sloane Stephens also made it through, while one of China's main hopes - world number 16 Wang Qiang - retired hurt against Ajla Tomljanovic.

FAVOURITES PILE THROUGH

Having seen second seed Karolina Pliskova dumped out by wildcard Jelana Ostapenko on Saturday, Osaka, Halep and Svitolina took no chances in their respective matches.

Two-time grand slam winner Osaka failed to really press home her advantage in the second set against Pegula, though two errors on the bounce from the American handed the former world number one the win.

"I just felt like this match, I was kind of living in the moment every point. I wasn't really thinking too much in the future, too much in the past," said Osaka.

Halep - who had to withdraw from the Wuhan Open with a back injury - found life much easier against Peterson, though Svitolina did have to come from behind to get past Sevastova and set up a round-two tie with Wang Yafan.

WILLIAMS BATTLES BACK FROM THE BRINK

It looked as though Venus Williams would be heading home early when Wimbledon semi-finalist Strycova took a 5-3 lead in the third set, after the Czech had come from behind in their encounter.

Williams had started strongly but faded in the second set, with Strycova winning five straight games to claim it 6-4.

A Williams break looked set to have handed the veteran the edge, but Strycova fought back with a three-game winning streak.

However, despite twice going within two points of victory, Strycova failed to capitalise, Williams clinching a hard-fought win with her second match point. Belinda Bencic awaits in round two.


FORMER CHAMPIONS FALL

Dayana Yastremska stormed into the second round, taking just 55 minutes to beat 2017 Beijing champion Caroline Garcia 6-1 6-1.

Another former winner - Svetlana Kuznetsova - also fell at the first hurdle, with Christina McHale triumphing 6-0 1-6 6-3.

With Garcia and Kuznetsova out and Garbine Muguruza having been defeated by Sofia Kenin on Saturday, only defending champion Caroline Wozniacki - who faces Lauren Davis on Monday - remains of the four previous winners to have featured in the main draw this time around.

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