SINGAPORE — Petra Kvitova is hoping her bout with glandular fever does not hinder her performance at the WTA Finals this week in Singapore.
The 2011 champion found out she was sick after Wimbledon this year and despite winning in New Haven and making the US Open quarter-finals for the first time, has had to struggle through her illness and is yet to fully recover from it.
“The blood tests show that it is in a good way up. It’s important to me that it is doing well. I hope the time off after the season will help me as well,” said Kvitova, who opens her campaign against fellow lefty Angelique Kerber on Monday.
“I’m able to practice a little bit more than I did when I found out after Wimbledon. As I said, it’s on the good way so I can practice more. I can practice every day, so that’s good. Practices, still trying to find balance with the physical part and the tennis part.”
The WTA Finals field feels more open than usual, in the absence of a fatigued Serena Williams, and the Road to Singapore itself was the most competitive we’ve seen in many years. Entering Beijing a mere three weeks ago, 27 players mathematically had a chance qualify for the season finale with six spots up for grabs at the time. Lucie Safarova and Flavia Pennetta booked their places just a few days before the Finals started.
“Still without Serena it’s a great tournament,” said Kvitova.
“I know that we are missing Serena. I think she needed the time off so it’s good for her. Of course she is a great champion and probably for many people she is one of the greatest player. So they are probably a little bit sad she isn’t here. But I think it’s still a great draw and a great two groups. I think you’re going to see great tennis from everyone here.”
Other White Group singles action today sees Wimbledon runner-up Garbine Muguruza take on French Open runner-up Lucie Safarova in a battle of WTA Finals debutantes.
— WTA (@WTA) October 25, 2015
The pair faced off in doubles on Sunday, which saw Safarova triumph alongside Bethanie Mattek-Sands over Spanish duo Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro.
“Is great to be here actually. I think it’s a very good position to be here playing singles and doubles. I’m very excited. I’m kind of rookie. Well, I played last year doubles, but it’s obviously not the same,” said Muguruza, who at 22, is the youngest in the field.
“I’m nervous, actually, to start and see what happens.”
Muguruza may call herself a rookie but many consider her to be a title favourite, as she is the in-form player at the moment following her trophy-winning run in Beijing and final showing in Wuhan.
“I earned my place here. I definitely have the level. I kind of deserve to be playing here. I don’t see me as a favourite though. I think I played very good this month, and hopefully I can continue doing it,” said Muguruza is the first Spanish woman to make the Finals since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in 2001.
SINGAPORE — We still have a week ahead of us in Singapore but I think I already experienced the highlight of the WTA Finals thanks to the one and only Naomi Osaka.
The 18-year-old Japanese-Haitian won the WTA Rising Stars Invitational on Sunday by beating French world No35 Caroline Garcia then gave a press conference that was a series of killer one-liners.
Currently ranked No202 in the world, Osaka was completely unfazed by the fact that she beat a player ranked 167 spots higher than her in the WTA rankings and said she wasn’t surprised she defeated Garcia, despite going into the final with a 1-2 record in the round robin stage.
Asked why she thought she would beat the Frenchwoman, Osaka said in a matter-of-fact manner: “This is a recent American term, but I didn’t want to be Meek‑Milled, like back‑to‑back losses. I don’t like losing to the same person over and or again. So, yeah, sorry if anybody didn’t get that joke.”
This is the face Naomi Osaka says she was giving Venus when she met her here. Says she probably creeped her out pic.twitter.com/n0ys2BwKVg
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) October 25, 2015
Her response warranted a quick visit to the Urban Dictionary website, which reminded me of how old I’m getting.
The WTA Rising Stars was a new concept introduced to the WTA Finals last year where four young prospects – two from Asia and two from rest of the world – are invited to play in Singapore based on fan votes. The scoring format is Fast Four.
Osaka said the whole experience was new to her mainly because she had to dress up and wear heels for the pre-event party and stayed up until 11pm once, which is two hours past her bedtime.
On the dress she wore at the players’ party, Osaka said: “My sister found the dress because she likes looking for stuff and she’s great at finding stuff. It’s usually crazy. I was kind of surprised that it was good looking. No, seriously, she though, she’s kind of is Harajuku style. It’s all over the place.”
— Nick McCarvel (@NickMcCarvel) October 25, 2015
I asked Osaka how she felt about the concept of the Rising Stars invitational and whether winning that trophy could somehow give her an extra push forward.
“There is like thoughts and then like things that you can do. So I’m just going to think about it as a thought and not really try to make it affect me that much sort of,” was her cryptic answer, which she followed up with an apology in case I didn’t understand what she was trying to say.
Osaka idolises Venus Williams, who is in Singapore as an alternate, and the teenager had a chance to meet with her on the sidelines of the tournament.
“I wasn’t really talking. I was just kind of creeping her out,” Osaka says of her meeting with Venus.
“But like she’s really nice. The void that I left because I wasn’t opening my mouth, I was just like that,” she added, giving a hilarious face of puffy cheeks and sealed lips.
“She was like ‘talk’ and I was like ‘uh‑huh, yeah, uh‑huh’. I don’t really remember what we talked about because I was really freaked out.”
Asked how much taking part in the invitational has given her a jolt of motivation to come back as a top-eight player for the WTA Finals, Osaka’s response was simple and indicative. She opened her arms wide and said: “This much.”
With a scary forehand and her quirky personality, Osaka is definitely one to watch moving forward.
SINGAPORE — Simona Halep wouldn’t use the word ‘depressed’ to describe how she felt mid-season after disappointing early exits at Roland Garros and Wimbledon yet she probably wasn’t too far off.
But it was those letdowns that led her to where she is at the moment – ranked No2 in the world (thanks to a semi-final showing at the US Open last month), seeded No1 at the WTA Finals, and a 6-0, 6-3 winner over Flavia Pennetta in her Singapore opener on Sunday.
“After Roland Garros and Wimbledon I said that I lost the year, so I have nothing,” the 24-year-old Romanian confessed.
“I didn’t have expectations for the second half of the year, and I just came to play relaxed. I just came to find a way to come back. But I didn’t expect to do that good like I did in USA.
“I think (my coach) Darren (Cahill) helped me pushing me to believe in myself. My team was close to me. So everything was in a positive way, and that’s why maybe I’m here and playing good again.
“I had downs in the middle of the year, but I can say that it helped me because now I’m more relaxed. I’m more like focused for what I have to do, not about the result. So I think I improve more in my mentality.”
There appears to be a magical connection between Halep and the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Last year, she beat Serena Williams 6-0, 6-2 in the group stages before losing to the American in the final. And Pennetta could only muster one more game than Williams did in a 70-minute beat-down by Halep.
The Romanian mixed up her shots with sharp angles, deep down-the-line stunners and firing impeccable second serves, choosing to be – in her words – “smart-aggressive” .
In the opening set, Halep dropped just three points on her own serve and broke Pennetta three times to serve the Italian a bagel in 25 minutes.
Halep: This tournament is like a bonus for me. I came here with confidence and want to do everything I can to win matches.
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) October 25, 2015
It was a major contrast to their US Open semi-final which Pennetta won 6-1, 6-3 in under an hour, en route to lifting the title.
“I’m the same Halep but in the good way. There (in New York) was the bad way,” Halep said.
“I feel good here. I feel the court. I feel the game. I have great memories from last year, so I came with confidence. I played I think very solid today.”
Pennetta finally got on the board in the eighth game of the match and did make the second set a bit more competitive, forcing Halep to save two break points early on.
But the Italian was broken in a lengthy eighth game, which Halep took on her fourth chance, and the Red Group affair was quickly over. Halep improved to 3-4 against top-10 opposition in 2015.
“I was not nervous at all. She play I think really consistent. She was playing really well today. Everything was working in the good way,” was Pennetta’s explanation after the rout.
“Maybe I had not too much energy. I didn’t push a lot like always did.
“It’s okay. I mean, she always have a good start here. Last year she beat Serena 6 0, 6 2 in the first match.”
As Pennetta noted: “The Road to Singapore was pretty hard in the last month”.
Here, her road to the semi-finals just got that much harder.