ZHUHAI  -   Former world number one Garbine Muguruza survived three match points against second seed Anastasija Sevastova to clinch a place in the semi-finals of the WTA Elite Trophy in China on Friday.

The two-time grand slam winner from Spain won her final round-robin match -- effectively a playoff for a semi-final spot -- 6-7, 6-2, 7-6. However, she had to overcome a scare in the tenth game of the deciding set as Sevastova failed to capitalise on three match points. The 22-year-old from Latvia took a nip-and-tuck first set in Zhuhai after a tie-break, but Muguruza, also 22, comfortably won the second.

The decider was a thriller for the fans at the Hengqin International Tennis Center, who witnessed some nail-biting tennis as the players fought toe-to-toe. But world number 17 Muguruza took control in the final tie-break, producing some fantastic shots to win it 7-1 after over two hours and 45 minutes on court. She joins Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, Germany’s Julia Goerges and the USA’s Madison Keys in Saturday’s semi-finals.

Keys lost on Friday evening to China’s Wang Qiang 6-1, 3-6, 1-6, but as the American took the match to three sets, she progressed to the last four. Despite being knocked out, Wang celebrated her match victory with the home fans, hitting tennis balls into the crowd.

Earlier France’s number one Caroline Garcia missed out on a semi-final spot despite beating Aryna Sabalenka in straight sets. The 22-year-old won 6-4, 6-4 but because she lost more than seven games to the Belarusian, Barty scraped through the round-robin group following her win over Garcia on Thursday. A straight-sets win, or even a loss in three sets, would have been enough for 20-year-old Sabalenka, but the tournament’s youngest player joins Garcia in being eliminated from the tournament.

Barty’s 6-3, 6-4 win over Garcia means the French star ended up bottom of the group of three. “I’m happy with the win,” she said. “I was solid; it was much better than yesterday. It’s still a win but it’s a disappointment to finish third.” The crowd witnessed a tense encounter between third seed Sabalenka and eighth seed Garcia, with both players showing signs of frustration at times.

Garcia needed to hold her nerve to take the first set. Serving at 5-4 up, she faced three break points at 0-40 down, but managed to claw back to clinch the set. She continued that momentum into the second set, immediately breaking Sabalenka’s first service game, and it felt like the world number 18 could qualify for the semi-finals. However, that chance was snatched away as Sabalenka crucially won a service game to make it 5-4, although Garcia sealed the match in the following game. 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.

UNDER-PRESSURE GARCIA SAYS ‘CAN DO BETTER’ NEXT YEAR

Caroline Garcia has revealed she feels under pressure to bring a grand slam trophy back to France, and believes she “can do better” after a difficult season. Although the 22-year-old spent almost the whole year in the top 10, she slipped down the rankings in October and struggled to kick on from 2017 when she won the Wuhan and China Opens.

Asked if she feels a weight of expectation from her home country, the world number 18 told AFP: “There are always these kind of things and it’s been like this for a long time. “There’s already some pressure, because they always want you to win.”

Garcia won the doubles tournament at Roland Garros in 2016, and said the singles grand slam in Paris is the one she feels most pressure to win. “They always want you to win the French Open, and obviously it’s something I want to do, but it’s not as easy as saying ‘hello’ to someone,” she said.

Her best grand slam singles performance so far was reaching the last eight on the clay at Roland Garros in 2017, and she said it is a “great challenge” to go deeper into the tournament. “I think I can do better, and it’s something I wanted to improve this year. I couldn’t do it but maybe next year.”

Garcia, whose season highlight was winning the Tianjin Open in October, said although her country expects her do well, the French players on the women’s tour don’t have to deal with as much pressure as the men. “Actually, my shoulders are probably way lighter than the men’s, because they haven’t won in 30 years, so I’m kind of glad Marion won five years ago.”

Garcia finished her year with a win at the ETA Elite Trophy in China, but it wasn’t enough to book her a place in the semi-finals. It has been a “complicated season”, she said after the match, explaining that she struggled with the extra pressures of being in the top 10, particularly mentally. “There were a lot of ups and downs -- not a lot of ups, obviously.”