Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza served warning of her intention to win both the WTA Finals and the year-end world number one crown when she crushed Jelena Ostapenko in straight sets on Sunday.
The freshly crowned WTA player of the year was far too solid for an erratic Ostapenko, winning 6-3, 6-4 in 85 minutes to open her campaign at the eight-woman season finale in Singapore.
Muguruza, who is playing her third consecutive WTA Finals and reached the last four in 2015, gained in strength to take control of her opening White Group round robin match.
The Spanish world number two stuttered at the finishing line when she was broken when serving for the match. But she regrouped to eventually serve it out in the 10th game.
Muguruza, 24, said she was pleased to overcome the late jitters. “I wanted to win so badly and she was just not giving me anything,” she told reporters.
“I waited for my moment, where I served and tried to take control. It went well.”
Muguruza, who was number one for four weeks until she was replaced by Simona Halep earlier this month, is one of seven players who can finish the year on top of the rankings by winning in Singapore.
Ostapenko’s high-voltage game was spectacular at times, as shown by her 16 winners in the first set. But 10 unforced errors sabotaged her chances against a ruthless opponent and she never recovered.
“I’m not very pleased because I was making a lot of unforced errors and couldn’t really get used to the court and feel my game,” Ostapenko said.
Downs Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-4! pic.twitter.com/C9pcuIndqB
— WTA (@WTA) October 22, 2017
Earlier in White Group, in the tournament’s opening match, Karolina Pliskova made an explosive start when she beat 37-year-old Venus Williams 6-2, 6-2 in 73 minutes.
The Czech world number three, playing in her second consecutive WTA Finals, overwhelmed a sluggish Williams, who is back in the elite tournament for the first time since 2009.
Even though she did not make it out of the group stage a year ago, Pliskova said the experience helped enormously.
“I think I had quite an advantage from that she (Williams) was not playing for the last few years in WTA Finals,” Pliskova said.
“I don’t know how she felt but I think I was trying to take that advantage that I was here last year.”
The match was an anti-climax for Williams and an early blow to her bid to be crowned the world’s number one for the first time in 15 years.
Williams said she was confident of rebounding from the defeat. “Yeah, I have been in this position before,” she said.
“I felt like I returned well today. I just didn’t execute as well during the point.”
Defeats Venus Williams 6-2, 6-2! pic.twitter.com/IHG4bQx8cb
— WTA (@WTA) October 22, 2017
The 47th edition of the WTA Finals commences in Singapore on Sunday with Venus Williams taking on Karolina Pliskova (13:00 Dubai time), and Garbine Muguruza facing Jelena Ostapenko in White Group action.
Red Group play begins on Monday with world No. 1 Simona Halep squaring off against Caroline Garcia (15:30 Dubai time) and Elina Svitolina clashing with Caroline Wozniacki.
Here's a closer look at the tournament and the key talking points surrounding the fourth staging of the event in Singapore.
[caption id="attachment_252406" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Leader of the pack: Simona Halep.[/caption]
Five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova crushed Peng Shuai 6-3, 6-1 at the Tianjin Open on Saturday to reach her first final since serving a 15-month doping ban.
The 30-year-old Russian, playing on a wildcard in the seventh tournament of her comeback, hit top gear as she swept aside the Chinese third seed in one hour, 18 minutes.
In front of a large home crowd, a businesslike Sharapova broke four times and conceded zero breaks of her own before wrapping up the semi-final with a clinical crosscourt forehand.
In Sunday’s final – her first since she won the Italian Open in May 2015 – she will be the red-hot favourite against 102nd-ranked Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, who beat qualifier Sara Errani 6-1, 6-3.
Sharapova has had a stop-start and injury-hit season since her controversial return at Stuttgart in April, following her ban for using the banned substance meldonium.
The statuesque former world number one reached the Stuttgart semis but she retired in the Italian Open second round and also withdrew from her second-round match at Stanford.
Sharapova missed Wimbledon qualifying because of injury and she wasn’t offered a wildcard to the French Open, but she reached the US Open last 16 on her return to Grand Slam tennis.
She has cut a swathe through the limited draw in Tianjin, only dropping one set so far in her victories over Irina-Camelia Begu, Magda Linette, Stefanie Voegele and Peng.
Sharapova, one of the world’s highest-earning female athletes, will now expect to win her 36th career title and end a trophy drought of more than two years, the longest since her debut win in 2003.
By contrast Sabalenka, 19, is gunning for her first WTA title after a run to the Tianjin final that included wins over China’s Duan Ying-Ying and Lin Zhu.
Sharapova, currently ranked 86th, has also been handed a wildcard for next week’s Kremlin Cup in Moscow, which she will play for the first time since 2007.