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.
As has been the case multiple times throughout the season, the No. 1 ranking is on the line this week in Singapore and the fact that seven of the eight players can walk away from the tournament with the top spot means the stakes are even higher. The entire field, except Garcia, can finish the year at the summit of the standings and the players aren’t shying away from the prospect.
“It (the No. 1 ranking) is important, I’m not going to lie but I know I have to play well,” says Muguruza, who spent four weeks at No. 1 before Halep replaced her earlier this month. “ I’m happy that I got it in the past, and now I’m not that nervous or obsessed.”
Halep echoed Muguruza’s thoughts saying: “I think for everyone it is the most important thing to finish the year No.1, but it is not going to be easy.”
Pliskova, who spent eight weeks at No. 1, said: “This tournament is really going to decide who is going to finish the year world number one. I think everybody has a good chance.”
If the 37-year-old Venus pulls it off, she would return to the top of the rankings for the first time since July 2002.
Svitolina and Ostapenko are the only two No. 1 contenders this week who haven’t made it to the top before.
Three of the eight players in Singapore are making their WTA Finals debut — Svitolina, Ostapenko and Garcia.
Svitolina owns a remarkable 7-1 win-loss record against top-five opposition in 2017 and is 10-3 against top-10 players. The Ukrainian is 6-3 head-to-head against her fellow Red Group players and has won a remarkable five titles in 2017, including three Premier 5 tournaments (Dubai, Rome, Toronto).
Ostapenko, the reigning French Open champion and the youngest WTA Finals qualifier since 2010, has a tough task ahead of her in Singapore, where she owns a 1-5 head-to-head record against her fellow White Group players. The 20-year-old comes into the tournament with momentum on her side though having won Seoul, and made semi-finals in Wuhan and Beijing, in her last three events.
Speaking of momentum, Garcia has plenty of it herself. The Frenchwoman pulled off a stunning double by winning Wuhan and Beijing back-to-back and is currently on an 11-match winning streak. She stands out in her White Group as a big-hitter amongst players who rely heavily on their superior movement and retrieving skills. Garcia will need her wheels to get through that group. She is 2-5 against her Red Group peers but can find solace in the fact that she beat both Halep and Svitolina en route to the Beijing title a few weeks ago.
Take a quick glance at the two groups and you can’t help but notice a particular theme: the White Group is mostly about the power-hitters (Pliskova, Venus, Muguruza and Ostapenko), and feature all-out aggression, while the Red Group will have more lengthy baseline rallies and will be more of a physical battle.
This is Venus’ first appearance at the Finals since 2009. Having reached two Grand Slam finals in 2017, the American is enjoying a resurgent season and seems to be having the time of her life on tour. The photo above is of Venus dancing her way onto the purple carpet at the Singapore draw ceremony. Venus won the WTA Finals in 2008 and is making her fifth appearance at the season finale.
The Czech ace queen parted ways with her coach David Kotyza last month and has Australian Rennae Stubbs helping her in Singapore this week. Will the new set-up pay dividends right away, or was this a gamble from Pliskova? This is her second WTA Finals appearance and she owns a 1-2 record at the tournament.
Garbine Muguruza was voted the WTA Player of the Year but we can’t deny it was a tight contest with several other competitors also worthy of that title. Success in Singapore for the Spaniard could potentially put any debate around this to bed.
This week’s alternates are Kristina Mladenovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Since 2003, when the Finals shifted to the current round robin format, the alternates have been called on seven times, most recently in 2012 when Sam Stosur stepped in. Mladenovic is on a 10-match losing streak and has featured in the Finals before in doubles, while Kuznetsova has made six previous appearances in singles.
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