The WTA’s Asian swing kicks off in earnest on Monday with action taking place in Tokyo (Premier), Seoul (International) and Guangzhou (International).
A marquee line-up will feature at the Toray PPO Tennis event, with five top-10 players — Garbine Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova, defending champion Caroline Wozniacki, Johanna Konta and Dominika Cibulkova — all taking part.
French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko is the top seed in Seoul while top Arab Ons Jabeur is in the Guangzhou main draw.
Muguruza is the only player to seal qualification for the WTA Finals so far which means the battle for the remaining eight spots will heat up in the upcoming weeks.
Here’s a look at the main talking points as we head into the final strength of the season…
Muguruza replaced Pliskova at the top of the world rankings after the conclusion of the US Open — a tournament which started with eight different players with a mathematical chance of claiming the No. 1 spot.
The Spaniard is just a mere 65 points ahead of Simona Halep in the rankings though and the fight for the year-end No. 1 ranking will feature prominently in the next few weeks.
The top four players — Muguruza, Halep, Elina Svitolina and Pliskova — have just 510 points separating them. Every point scored during these final two months of the season can make all the difference for the leading pack. Smart scheduling and injury management will prove key in the upcoming period.
The reigning Roland Garros champion is currently clinging onto the No. 8 spot in the Porsche Race to Singapore leaderboard.
Just last year when Muguruza sealed her Singapore spot fairly late in the season (she was the sixth player to qualify, secured her place on October 13, 2016), despite her winning the French Open earlier in the year, there is a risk in 2017 that a Grand Slam title holder might miss the WTA Finals.
Ostapenko did well by reaching the Wimbledon quarter-finals following her Roland Garros exploits but has since gone 2-3 in matches. She needs a strong finish to make Singapore.
The Russian ex-world No. 1 has struggled with physical problems since her return from a doping ban last April, but finally found some momentum at the US Open, where she made the fourth round before falling to Anastasija Sevastova.
It wasn’t the first time Sharapova had won three matches in a row since her return — she reached the semis in Stuttgart in her first week back — but she claimed far more convincing victories in New York, taking out Halep in a three-set thriller in the opening round.
So far, the Russian has received two wildcards for the Asian swing, in Beijing and Tianjin, where a combined total of 1,280 points are on offer.
She could potentially get more invites. Sharapova is currently No. 103 in the world and would need a few wins to boost her ranking ahead of the 2018 season, where she will surely want to guarantee her place in the main draw of the Australian Open via direct entry rather than waiting for another wildcard.
The 37-year-old legend has had a tremendous Grand Slam season in 2017, making the finals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon, the semis at the US Open and the last 16 at Roland Garros. Positioned nicely at No. 5 in the Race to Singapore, Venus Williams has the chance to qualify for her first WTA Finals since 2009. She went there as an alternate last year but has a real shot at a top-eight finish this time around.
This time last year, Angelique Kerber was ranked No. 1 in the world and was holding two Grand Slam titles. Today, she is No. 14 in the world, No. 18 in the race and has won just one match post-Wimbledon. Finishing the season with a few solid wins can help the German regain some confidence and start 2018 in a better position. Will she be able to capitalise on Asia?
She has a rematch with Naomi Osaka in her opener in Tokyo. Osaka beat Kerber in the first round of the US Open. Revenge could be the pick-me-up Kerber needs at the moment.
Maria Sharapova has responded to criticism regarding the words she used to describe Serena Williams in her book ‘Unstoppable: My life so far’ during an interview on the American talk show ‘The View‘ on Tuesday.
The Russian five-time Grand Slam champion officially released her memoir on Tuesday and made numerous television appearances to promote it.
In her book, Sharapova talks about the first time she faced Williams in a match — in Miami in 2004 — saying: “First of all, her physical presence is much stronger and bigger than you realise watching TV. She has thick arms and thick legs and is so intimidating and strong. And tall, really tall.”
Sharapova’s words were deemed racist by some and she was asked about the controversy by one of the The View‘s hosts, Sunny Hostin.
“You’re receiving a lot of flak from the African-American community the way you described her in the book. You say she had thick legs and thick arms. What do you say to people that are saying ‘why would you use those terms in describing your opponent’?” asked Hostin.
Sharapova replied: “I think you have to understand that I’m speaking from an image of being a 17-year-old girl and seeing Serena Williams in front of me for the first time. I wasn’t physically developed at all, I did not belong at a Wimbledon final, so everything about her presence was intimidating to me.”
Sharapova, who reached the US Open fourth round earlier this month, playing her first Grand Slam tournament back from her doping suspension, said she had to discuss her rivalry with Williams in her book because her win over the 23-time major champion in the Wimbledon final in 2004 played a huge part in her career.
“The whole experience of playing Serena as a 17-year-old girl was incredible, because I grew up practicing in an academy in Florida for so many years and I watched Serena and Venus practice at the academy, hundreds of spectators were watching – literally I was watching the next 25 years of my life right in front of me, unknowingly.
“And then you find yourself at 17 across the net from her. It was like someone just put me inside a TV screen and said ‘here you are, you’ve got a chance to play Serena’,” the ex-world No. 1 added.
“It was our second meeting and the first one, we had just played a few months beforehand, I lost easily, I thought it would take me years to get to her level. She was way above and beyond my level at the time. So playing against her, she was the two-time defending champion, and I speak about that rivalry in the book because that match was a huge part of my life and my career, it’s where it all started for me.”
Sharapova, who returned from her doping ban last April, fielded multiple questions regarding her failed drugs test throughout the day, which started with an appearance on Good Morning America, before stopping by The View and The Daily Show.
Hostin did not make it easy for Sharapova, asking her about the drug meldonium, that led to her failing the test.
“What do you say to the people that are now saying ‘well, the only reason you were No. 1 in the world, the only reason you that you were so dominant is because you were taking a supplement?” said Hostin.
Sharapova replied: “I think it’s such an interesting thing, because when something is legal for so many years, and you take it once during the time that it wasn’t and then people are able to say that, then that’s not facts. So, it was what it was, I went through it, I got through it and I found myself playing at the US Open so…”
Michael Strahan of Good Morning America tried to get Sharapova to talk about how she and her team did not know meldonium was added to the prohibited substances list at the start of 2016.
“We’re going to dive right into it as you do in the book,” said Strahan. “We’re going to talk about the suspension. In the beginning of the book you talk about it, you call it a sloppy mistake. You say you didn’t realise that meldonium was illegal at that time, or on the suspended list, how does that happen?”
She deflected by saying: “It’s a question I was asking for quite some time but once you get past that, it’s time to move on.
“The US Open was an incredible moment for me, I knew what I went through, I knew all the ups and downs I had faced over the last couple of years. Being away from the sport was really difficult, I’ve done this since I was a young girl, so to get that back – that was my dream, that was my wish and I made that happen.”
Maria Sharapova muses on her long, lopsided rivalry with Serena Williams in a new autobiography released on Tuesday and how she believes a locker room moment fueled the American’s drive to dominate her.
The Russian-born Sharapova was 17 when she defeated Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final. Rather than proving the start of a long, close-run rivalry, it was one of just two victories Sharapova can claim against the US great, who has beaten her 19 times.
In her new book, “Unstoppable: My Life So Far,” Sharapova says it was not only her victory, but the fact that she overheard Williams weeping afterwards in the locker room that ensured the American would always find a way to elevate her game in their future contests.
“Guttural sobs, the sort that make you heave for air, the sort that scares you,” Sharapova writes of the moment, according to excerpts released by The New York Times.
“It went on and on. I got out as quickly as I could, but she knew I was there. People often wonder why I have had so much trouble beating Serena; she’s owned me in the past ten years.
“I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds, at Wimbledon,” she said.
— Maria Sharapova (@MariaSharapova) September 12, 2017
In the memoir published by Sarah Crichton Books, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Sharapova details her tennis career from the time of her move to Florida at the age of six — and Williams caught her attention early on.
Sharapova recalls surreptitiously watching Serena and her sister Venus play during a visit to the Florida academy where she trained — unwilling even then to “put myself in the position of worshiping them, looking up, being a fan.”
Tensions between Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion who returned to competition in April after a 15-month doping ban, and 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams — who gave birth to a daughter this month — have sometimes spilled over into public spats.
Sharapova ponders the reasons, wondering if the antagonism between them has perhaps driven each to excellence.
“Maybe that’s better than being friends,” she writes, adding: “Someday, when all this is in our past, maybe we’ll become friends. Or not. You never can tell.”
* Provided by AFP