The WTA season is edging closer to its big finale in Singapore, where the eight top-performing women on tour will fight for one last time in the Lion City.
Singapore will end its five-year stint as host of the WTA Finals this month (October 21-28) before the season-closing championships move to Shenzhen next year.
Five women have already locked down their spots for the farewell edition in Singapore – Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber, Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova and Caroline Wozniacki – while five other women are battling to grab one of the three remaining tickets.
As we count down towards the action in Singapore, here’s a look back at last year’s WTA Finals field; who made it then, and where are they at now?
Last year, Halep qualified for her fourth WTA Finals in Singapore but it was her first time there as a reigning world No. 1.
The Romanian made it to the Finals on the back of an emotional 2017, where she reached five finals, including one at the French Open, but walked away with just one title, in Madrid. She missed out on multiple opportunities to rise to the world No. 1 spot for the first time before she finally took over the summit in Beijing in October.
Although seven of the eight players in Singapore last year could have ended the year at the top of the rankings, Halep managed to stave them off and concluded 2017 as the tour’s leading lady.
This year, the Romanian has held onto the top spot all season, barring the four weeks Wozniacki took over after the Dane’s Australian Open title success.
Halep won her first Grand Slam this year, at Roland Garros, and picked up titles in Shenzhen and Montreal as well. She is dealing with a herniated disk at the moment but hasn’t pulled out of Singapore so far.
Last year’s Race position entering Singapore: 1
Current Race position (week of October 8): 1
After a stellar 2017 season that saw Muguruza win Wimbledon – her second Slam – as well as triumph in Cincinnati, the Spaniard went to Singapore as the No. 2 seed. She had spent four weeks as the world No. 1 from September 11, 2017 to October 8, 2017, and was named WTA Player of the Year at season-end.
This year, Muguruza dropped out of the top-10 in the rankings, is not in contention for a spot in the WTA Finals, and has won just one title, in Monterrey, Mexico, last April.
After reaching the semi-finals of Roland Garros in June, Muguruza was unable to win back-to-back matches for five consecutive tournaments (was also hampered by a right arm injury), an undesirable streak she finally snapped by reaching the last-16 round in Wuhan end of September.
The 25-year-old is having a decent run in Hong Kong this week (has made the semis so far) and will probably be among the field in Zhuhai, where 12 players, ranked from the ninth position onwards in the Race, compete for a possible $673,300 dedicated to an undefeated champion (through round robin stage and knockouts).
Last year’s Race position entering Singapore: 2
Current Race position (week of October 8): 17
The Czech spent eight weeks as world No. 1 last season and was the No. 3 seed in Singapore. She won three titles from three finals reached in 2017 – Brisbane, Doha and Eastbourne – and made the semi-finals of Roland Garros for the first time. This year, Pliskova, who got married in July, has made even further progress on clay, winning her biggest title on the surface in Stuttgart and following that up with a semi-final showing in Madrid. The 26-year-old big-server also picked up a trophy in Tokyo but had an average Grand Slam season, reaching the quarter-finals in Melbourne and New York, the fourth round at Wimbledon and third round at Roland Garros.
Pliskova is still fighting to secure one of the last three remaining spots in Singapore and is through to the semis in Tianjin this week, which means she can add to her points total in the Race, but can only guarantee her place in the WTA Finals next week, depending on other players’ results in Moscow.
She had a coaching change this year, parting ways with Tomas Krupa after Wimbledon, and hiring Australian former doubles No. 1 Rennae Stubbs in August.
Last year’s Race position entering Singapore: 3
Current Race position (week of October 8): 8
The Ukrainian made a major step forward in her career in 2017, winning five titles, three of which were Premier 5s. She hit a career-high ranking of No. 3 as a result.
In 2018, Svitolina started strong, winning the Premier tournament in Brisbane before making the quarter-finals at the Australian Open. She lost badly to Elise Mertens in that last-eight showdown in Melbourne though and ended her Grand Slam season without reaching an elusive semi-final on the Major stage. She defended her titles in Dubai and Rome but a subsequent significant weight loss seems to have affected her game.
She’s still on track to be one of the last three qualifiers for Singapore but her survival in Hong Kong this week is in the balance as play was suspended due to rain with Svitolina trailing Wang Qiang 2-6, 2-5. The Chinese was serving for the match and a semi-final spot against Muguruza. As of right now, Svitolina is not entered in Moscow next week which means her qualification might depend on the results of others rather than her own.
Svitolina parted ways with her coach Thierry Ascione after the US Open but is still with Andrew Bettles.
Last year’s Race position entering Singapore: 4
Current Race position (week of October 8): 7
After an impressive 2017 that saw Williams make two Grand Slam finals, in Melbourne and Wimbledon, and finish as runner-up at the WTA Finals, the American has had a tough 2018. She made two first-round exits and two third rounds at the Slams this year and is 17-11 win-loss overall this season.
Her best results of the year came in March, when she made the semis in Indian Wells – she beat her sister Serena for the first time since 2014 en route – and the quarters in Miami. The 38-year-old was initially scheduled to play in Asia but she ended up withdrawing. Her last event the year was the US Open. She is already down to No. 22 in the world rankings and will sink even further when she drops the 955 points she picked up in Singapore last year.
Last year’s Race position entering Singapore: 5
Current Race position (week of October 8): 38
The Dane lost six finals in 2017 before she snapped her hoodoo and won Tokyo in September. She then finished her year on a high, triumphing in the WTA Finals and she ended the season ranked No.3 in the world.
In 2018, Wozniacki picked up right where she left off, making the final in Auckland then winning her first Grand Slam at the Australian Open. That victory saw her return to the No. 1 ranking for the first time in six years. She stayed on top for four weeks before Halep reclaimed the top position.
Wozniacki won Eastbourne and Beijing to make it 30 career titles and has already qualified for the WTA Finals for a sixth time in her career.
Last year’s Race position entering Singapore: 6
Current Race position (week of October 8): 3
Matching what she did in her stunning 2017 season this year was always going to be difficult for Ostapenko and she didn’t fare as poorly as many would have expected. Last year, the Latvian was unseeded when she shocked Halep to win the French Open, just a few days after turning 20 years old. Ostapenko also made the quarters at Wimbledon then won Seoul later in the season. She went 1-2 in her group matches in Singapore and finished the year ranked No. 7 in the world.
In 2018, Ostapenko showed flashes of her 2017 form, making the final in Miami and the semis at Wimbledon, but she fell in the first round of her title defence at the French Open, and dropped a lot of points during the Asian swing, after having strong results there last year. There is a chance she makes Zhuhai but she is also dealing with a left wrist injury.
Ostapenko went through some coaching changes, adding David Taylor at the start of the year, then parting ways with him and adding Glenn Schaap to her team midseason.
Last year’s Race position entering Singapore: 7
Current Race position (week of October 8): 20
Honk Kong 🤗🇭🇰❤️ pic.twitter.com/kgNbk5iS75
— Jelena Ostapenko (@JelenaOstapenk8) October 5, 2018
The Frenchwoman enjoyed a late surge at the end of 2017, winning Wuhan and Beijing back-to-back to secure a spot in the WTA Finals for the first time. This year, Garcia has been quite open about her mental struggles, and even though she peaked at No.4 in the world in September, she is down to No. 16 this week due to her opening-round exit in Wuhan and third-round defeat in Beijing. Her year was highlighted by semi-final showings in Stuttgart, Madrid, and this week in Tianjin (plays Hsieh Su-Wei on Saturday). She played the fourth round at the Australian Open and Roland Garros.
Last year’s Race position entering Singapore: 8
Current Race position (week of October 8): 18
Roger Federer hailed old rival Rafael Nadal as “super-inspiring” after the world number one joined in the clean-up operation after flash floods killed 12 people on the Spanish holiday island of Majorca.
Spanish tennis star Nadal, 32, was pictured wearing boots and white gloves, mopping up the floor of a warehouse on Wednesday on the island where he lives.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion, currently sidelined through injury, has also offered to open up his sports centre and tennis academy to people made homeless by the floods.
“I know how important Majorca is to Rafa and I have been in touch with him to see if I can help with anything,” Federer said in a video message recorded in Shanghai where he is currently competing.
“I have seen him helping in the village where he comes from and to see that is super-inspiring. Rafa, you have our support.
“We are thinking of all the people in Majorca. We wish you strength in these difficult times and I hope to be back on Majorca soon.”
Fellow rival Novak Djokovic, also taking part in Shanghai, said he hoped Nadal’s efforts would inspire others.
“A big hug and friendly regards to Rafa and well done amigo for helping out,” said the reigning Wimbledon and US Open champion.
“I invite anyone to give their support in anyway they can. Gracias.”
While Andy Murray spent this past year dealing with a hip injury, recovering from surgery, and making his way back to the tour, he was also busy adding talented young athletes to the roster of his sports marketing agency, offering them mentorship and advice he wished he had when he was an up-and-comer himself.
In 2013, Murray left XIX Entertainment and co-founded 77 Sports Management with two of his business advisers, Matt Gentry and Gawain Davies. The idea was to create an agency to look after Murray’s on-court and off-court needs, and once he was set up, the Scot would then start mentoring young athletes across a range of sports.
Within the last 11 months, Murray’s stable has grown to include six athletes from three different sports: tennis, athletics and football.
Davies, formerly of IMG and Lagardere, focuses on the commercial side of things, while Gentry, who has previously worked in football and rugby, among other sports, deals with marketing, brand and communications. Murray sits at the top as the mentor, with a direct line to the athletes they represent, and that way they guarantee providing a personalised, all-round strategy for their young stars in the making.
So far, Murray and his team have signed tennis players Aidan McHugh and Katie Swan, twin track sprinters Shannon and Cheriece Hylton, and Scotland youth and Hibs footballers Ryan Porteous and Fraser Murray.
“We take on talent based on their potential and personality and whether we feel we can make a difference,” Andy Murray told Sport360.
“We have six clients now, in tennis, football and athletics, but we are keen to help more. It’s something I enjoy and I’ve got a good team around me to help out in all areas of management.
“I look at things as an athlete and know what we should be providing and what is required. There are so many distractions at the top of any sport, so it’s about providing the right advice and service and helping them become the best they can be.”
All of the athletes currently signed by 77 Sports are aged 21 and under. When Murray first thought of all this, he was particularly interested in helping young British athletes make the transition from juniors to the senior ranks, mentoring them along the way. He has vast knowledge from his 13-year professional career that saw him capture three Grand Slams, two Olympic gold medals, and rise to No. 1 in the world, and he wanted to pass that wisdom on.
Now, Murray and his team are keen to add a few more athletes to their crew, but with the intention to keep their boutique agency intimate, to maintain their personal touch. Signing a couple of slightly older tennis players – in their early 20s – is a possibility. Since they’ve been mostly working with juniors, the risk is high and there are no guarantees. While money is not the main motivation behind the company, there is of course a financial reality, especially with Murray being the majority shareholder, who has invested his own money in it.
Signing slightly older tennis players could potentially minimise that risk. They are also looking at recruiting a golfer and say there is no reason for them not to work with non-British athletes as well.
While Murray can rely on Davies and Gentry in handling the commercial side of matters, the 31-year-old Scot believes tennis has equipped him with some valuable skills that are transferrable from the sports to the business world. Besides his sports management company, Murray owns a luxury hotel, Cromlix, near his hometown of Dunblane, and has also been backing British start-ups on the investment crowdfunding platform Seedrs. His investment portfolio has reportedly exceeded 30 businesses through his relationship with Seedrs.
“As with other individual sports, you have to manage your team around you. In effect you are like a CEO, as you are responsible for hiring and paying people in your team and continually managing and monitoring not only your own performance, but everyone around you,” says Murray.
“There are plenty of difficult decisions to be made and you are often dealing with people much older and more experienced than you. It can be stressful at times but you learn a lot about yourself and there is no hiding place.
“It’s an amazing sport though that has given me so much, so helping others is a small way of me giving something back.”
View this post on Instagram
Excited to announce that I have signed with @andymurray ‘s 77 Sports Management. I’m really looking forward to the next chapter of my career working with the 77 team. Andy has always been someone I have looked up to, and having him as a mentor will be invaluable to me both on and off the court. I can’t wait to start the 2018 season ☺️
A post shared by Katie Swan (@katieswan99) on
Murray isn’t the only player to have his own sports management company, but his mentorship role is a rarity among active players, who have jam-packed schedules and countless commitments both on and off the court.
“It’s something I am passionate about, so I make time. Once I stop playing, then it’s something I can devote more time to, but it’s great being able to help some of the stars of the future,” he explains.
His mother, Judy, is proud of the work Murray is doing. Judy, a former British Fed Cup team captain and coach, spends a significant amount of time trying to get more young girls into tennis as well as more female coaches into the sport. The apple has not fallen too far from the tree it seems.
“I’m delighted to see Andy doing that,” Judy told Sport360 of Murray’s mentorship programme.
“Because I saw him when he was a young player, you need common sense around you and you need unconditional support and that usually comes from the family. But you also need an adult who is not looking at you as some kind of cash cow.
“You take a team around you and they’re all employed by you, they’re very much older, so you actually really need somebody to manage all of that. And there were so many things that we didn’t know when he was younger. Why would we? Nobody prepared us for anything, nobody had done that before in Scotland.
“So it’s a lot about learning from your mistakes. And I think he recognises that now that there wasn’t that experienced voice that could come and sit with you and listen and talk and share experiences and help you to make the right decision at the right time, whether that’s environment, scheduling, choice of racquet, management company, whatever it is. And I think, he is, yes probably very similar to me in that respect. He just wants to share and wants to help.
“Maybe he’s a wee bit like me, he thinks he has a better sense of humor than me, I’m not so sure,” she added with a laugh.
Swan, a 19-year-old British tennis player ranked a career-high 167 this week, signed with 77 Sports in January this year (she was previously with IMG) and already feels the link-up with Murray has been invaluable.
The two-time Wimbledon champion and his team helped her hire a new coach this season – Argentine Diego Veronelli – and also advised her on her tournament schedule.
“He’s such a great guy. I’ve always known him to be so humble and willing to help others whenever he can. It’s rare to find someone on tour, who’s still playing, willing to do that. He’s helped me and Aidan a lot and I’m really grateful for that,” Swan told Sport360 in a phone interview this week.
“I think there’s a lot of different things, but for me, dealing with injuries on the road, that’s been something I’ve struggled with over the last few years and obviously he’s been through so much with those, so just to be able to ask him how he’s dealt with them and figuring out the best way to manage them while traveling, I think that’s really helped me.”
Mentorship is not something new to Murray. For many years, he would invite the younger British players, including the now 14th-ranked Kyle Edmund, to his winter training block in Miami or Dubai. He is the first to send a congratulatory message to any of his compatriots when they record a good result on tour, and approaches the up-and-comers to hit with him at tournaments.
Murray also shares the statistical data his team have gathered on various players on the circuit if any of the young Brits need advice on their next opponents.
“I’ve made plenty of mistakes throughout my career, so being able to offer advice on things like coaching, dealing with pressure and expectation right through to working with the media… I’ve also invested a lot in my performance team – strength and conditioning, physios, psychologists, nutritionists – and in using data to help my performance, so again, it’s an area I can offer advice and help guide,” says Murray.
“As a younger player growing up on the tour I would have loved to have access to guidance when making key decisions.”
View this post on Instagram
“Eventhough he’s in a different sport to us, I feel that the attributes and qualities you need to have to be at the top of your sport, is universal.” Beyond excited and humbled to start this new chapter😆🙏🏽🎉 @cheriecehylton and I will be joining new Talent Agency, 77 Sports Management🎉Looking forward to this journey with you @andymurray
A post shared by Shannon Hylton (@shannonhylton) on
Swan, who has nearly halved her ranking this season, is from Bristol but lives with her parents in Wichita, Kansas. Spending so much time away from home has not been easy but she’s been learning how to adapt to her life as a pro with the guidance from the 77 Sports camp.
“There’s always a lot of sacrifices to make. The whole team helped me find my new coach this year, he’s from Argentina, which logistically makes it quite difficult to be able to spend much time at home,” she says.
“I’ve made that sacrifice of not getting to see my family as much. Having to train in different places to do what’s best for me and my tennis, which is really hard because I miss being home but I’ve really enjoyed this year being with 77. When I’m in London I get to catch up with Matt, Gawain and Josh [Murray] and it’s been really good so far. It’s tough being on tour but I really enjoy it and I wouldn’t change it.”
Face-to-face meetings are not always feasible between Murray and his mentees, but he does get the chance to see Swan and McHugh at tournaments, and he has spent time hitting with the latter in recent years. Hibs duo Porteous and Fraser Murray met up with the Scot at Wimbledon in June. All four of them, along with the sprinter twins Shannon and Cheriece, are on a WhatsApp group with Murray and his team, leaving an open communication channel among them year-round.
“I had a chat with Andy before the Commonwealths as it was my first senior event and I wanted to draw on his experience as an elite athlete,” Cheriece told the BBC earlier this year.
“He told me to just go out and perform to the best of my ability. Don’t change anything in your training and just enjoy it. I feel the attributes you need as an elite sportsperson are transferrable. It is good to have that fresh mindset and we’ve chatted about the differences between the two sports. It is really refreshing to hear him.”
Cheriece, who specialises in the 400m, is pursuing a degree in Management at Cass Business School while her sister Shannon is studying biomedical science at the University of East London. They are due to graduate next year.
“There are other things that go into sport than just the performance, obviously there’s the training away from the court but also the education too, to set yourself up for life after you finish and that’s actually something that I regret myself, not doing,” Murray told BBC Sport.
“I wish I’d spent more time in education and that’s something I would pass on to others and certainly recommend more athletes do.”
Murray’s most recent recruits are from Hibernian, the football club he supports and where his grandfather, Roy Erskine, once played. Fraser Murray and Porteous signed with 77 Sports in May, as part of a wider deal involving the agency and the club’s academy.
Porteous, 19, is a central defender at Hibs and was recently called up for Scotland’s U-21s, while Fraser Murray, also 19, rose through the club’s academy ranks before making his competitive debut with the first team in 2016. The Scottish teen scored two goals in his first six appearances.
Beyond their tie-up with the two footballers, 77 Sports plan to work with coaches and staff at the Edinburgh club’s academy.
“Football is a huge passion of mine and I’m looking forward to working with the club – and with Ryan and Fraser and helping them with every aspect of their careers. Hibs have a great youth set-up and with the team of people I have around me, we’ll be helping them in any way we can,” says Murray.
Although he’s not ready to hang up his racquet just yet, Murray has already started ensuring that his legacy in sport lives on. His venture is one that is beyond tennis, and beyond dollar signs. It is far from the typical formula in today’s money-grabbing, cut-throat world of competitive sport. But while markets change, tennis careers end, and industries transform, it’s fair to say that the role of Andy Murray: The Mentor, will likely last a lifetime.