Darren Cahill’s tough love couldn’t save Simona Halep as world No.2 Karolina Pliskova set up a semi-final showdown with Ashleigh Barty at the season-ending showpiece in Shenzhen.
One of tennis’s most respected coaches, Cahill was savaged on social media for branding Halep “a disgrace” during the Wimbledon champion’s 6-0 2-6 6-4 capitulation to Pliskova on Friday night.
Pliskova’s rollercoaster victory earned her second spot in the Purple Group with a 2-1 win-loss record for the week, with defending champion Elina Svitolina earlier marching into the semi-finals unbeaten after downing Sofia Kenin 7-5 7-6 (12-10).
Svitolina will face Belinda Bencic in Saturday’s first semi, before Barty bids to become the first Australian to reach the championship match since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1978.
But it was Cahill’s controversial courtside rev-up that overshadowed the on-court action.
For anyone that missed it. Here is Darren Cahill calling Simona Halep a disgrace. (Via Paul Grogan) pic.twitter.com/l7RwNBFM3x
— Paps (@DatGoneIt77) November 1, 2019
Minutes after telling Halep he was proud of her for squaring the match up after being bagelled in the first set, Cahill returned to condemn the fifth seed for surrendering a 2-0 lead in the decider.
“Simo? Simo, look at me. The last three games you’ve been a disgrace on the court,” the Australian said.
“Come on, you can’t win the match doing what you’ve been doing the last three games. You’ve got to reel it in.
“Get your focus back between the lines. For no reason, you’ve lost it here … So you have a chance to define yourself now in this set. Forget the result, how are you going to finish this match? It’s up to you.
“You can finish with full energy and full focus or you can continue doing what you’ve been doing the last three games and you have no chance to win.
“So at least give yourself a chance by pulling it back in. This is on you. Get your attitude back on track and you will win this match. I have full belief.
“You have a choice here how to define yourself as an athlete and a competitor.”
After losing eight of the next nine points and falling behind 5-2, Halep broke back and led 30-love while trying to level the set at 5-5.
But she again lost four straight points on serve as Pliskova – having endured her own mid-match meltdown and conceding six consecutive games – eventually claimed a dramatic victory.
Cahill walked out on Halep after a similar episode in Miami two years ago before reuniting and guiding the temperamental former world No.1 to her maiden grand slam triumph at the 2018 French Open.
He has only recently reunited with the Romanian after a year off.
Asked about Cahill’s latest blast, Halep said: “Yeah, it was a little bit of the impact for me but I’m pretty sure that I deserve (it) because I was not calm. I changed something in my attitude.
“Everyone knows that I’m working on that. I was a little bit pissed on myself that I did that. I’m sure that I made him pissed also.”
— Simona Halep (@Simona_Halep) October 28, 2019
Halep said she remained excited to have Cahill back in her corner for 2020.
“I feel more confident for what’s coming up. I am motivated,” she said.
“I’m fresh mentally, even if it ended like this at this tournament. I don’t feel exhausted like last year. It’s a good sign.
“But I need a holiday. I need a holiday to just forget about everything, then I’ll be ready for the off-season.”