Sharapova and Radwanska shine at the WTA Finals – PHOTOS

By Ros Satar

  • Agnieszka Radwanska [5] def. Simona Halep [1] 7-6(5) 6-1
  • Maria Sharapova [3] def. Flavia Pennetta [7] 7-5 6-1
  • Final Round Robin session for the White Group with Garbiñe Muguruza [2] v Petra Kvitova [4] followed by Angelique Kerber [6] v Lucie Safarova [8]

SINGAPORE – Agnieszka Radwanska dumped last year’s finalist and top seed Simona Halep out of the tournament, while Maria Sharapova ended Flavia Pennetta‘s professional career as the Red Group round robin stages concluded.

Agnieszka Radwanska [5] def. Simona Halep [1] 7-6(5) 6-1

Looking back to last weekend as the players did their pre-tournament press conferences, there had been a quiet confidence to top seed Halep that this was her chance to finish the year with a flourish. It hasn’t always been easy for her – there were a lot of expectations after her breakthrough year(s) and the pressure at times got to her (by her own admission).

Meanwhile Radwanska had an OK year, but tumbling a little down the rankings, and two tough losses in the first two round robin matches spelled trouble as Halep started with an immediate break.

Surely this was going to be a foregone conclusion – well not quite. Radwanska perhaps felt that on the back foot a break down, she could afford to swing free and pull off some of the more outrageous airborne flicks and tricks we have all come to love.

Wouldn’t you know it, it was working as she started to whittle away at Halep’s advantage forcing a tie-break. Once more, Halep slammed the hammer down, leaping out to a 5-1 lead. But someone had not read the script as Radwanska reeled off six points on the run (literally) to seal the first set. Although Halep clung on to her opening service game, the stuffing had been knocked out of her. The scenario grids were in tatters, as Radwanska ploughed through her – ripping to a 7-6(5) 6-1 win and the slimmest of chances to advance to the semi-finals off the back of a 1-2 record.

Radwanska said, after the match: “That definitely was a crazy set. Up and downs pretty much whole set. Every point matters in that case. Well, the tiebreak I didn’t really know that I could come back, and suddenly ‑‑ I think I was really relaxed. I didn’t get tight and I think I made really good shot in important moments. When was just 5‑1 down I think I just kind of play aggressive tennis and that works.

“What I can do right now is just watch and cheer for Maria. So that’s it. (Laughter.)”

Halep admitted that losing that tie-break spelled the end of her season, but overall despite some missed marks and expectations it was not bad at all, finishing in the top three in the world!

“I think I had a good year this year. Ups and downs, but it was okay. I will finish No. 2 or No. 3 in the world so it’s pretty good for me. It’s second year in a row.

“I want to get better for the next year. I have many things to improve. I have to run a little bit more because I need. Today I couldn’t breathe anymore in the second set. But it’s normal. I have to be healthy first and then to train hard. I really want to get better; I want to do better next year.”

 

Maria Sharapova [3] def. Flavia Pennetta [7] 7-5 6-1

So with it all on the line for Radwanska in this match, how would unfold. It almost followed the script many speculated on. Pennetta was swinging from the outset, breaking Sharapova immediately but as soon as Sharapova picked up the gears and broke back to level at 4-4, it was all the way of the Russian.

She broke for the set, and from the start of the second set, never looked close to being broken back again.

One had to wonder what was going through her mind at the final changeover – with Sharapova just two games away from heading the group, the time for the fight-back was now.

But it never came, as Sharapova closed in ruthlessly – breaking once more before serving out Pennetta’s career to love. It was, however, a classy show at the end with a muted celebration compared to the emotional release of the last two matches, and a hug at the net before Pennetta declined an on-court farewell ceremony and exited.

 

After the match, she explained why she couldn’t stay to bid the fans goodbye: “I’m happy to have the chance to play this tournament. I think to have the last match against Maria was amazing play such a good champion. Was a good way also to say good‑bye, because when you lose against such a good player there is not too many things to say.

“I don’t want any drama. I don’t like drama. I wasn’t able to do that, so I prefer maybe to do it in few months. I don’t know, maybe in Rome or wherever. But in that time ‑‑ I don’t like drama and I don’t like to cry, and I know if I was there I will cry. So why? No. (Laughter.)”

For Sharapova, she knew before she went out that she had already qualified but she admitted that she did not know that the straight sets win would bring down the curtain on Pennetta’s career.

She said: “I knew that I had qualified before my match, but I didn’t know about how the result of the match would change the standings or who would go in.   I knew if she would win she would go through. Other than that, I didn’t know the calculations exactly.

“I didn’t know in the last point that if I had won match in two that she was out, so it wasn’t something that I had thought about. But then it was mentioned to me after, right before I threw the balls up in the air that she was out.”

She continued: “Every match for me just counts at this point in the season in the last tournament. As I said before, I wanted to try to play a high‑quality three matches, and I didn’t know the results would have gone the way that I have expected.

“I’m actually, I think, also a little bit surprised that I’ve been able to win three matches, as physical as some of those matches were. I think knowing that I qualified allowed me to be a little bit more aggressive today. I thought I played quite aggressively in the second set and had a good ratio of winners and unforced errors, was quite solid. Served well.

“So all those things helped me. And also not playing a third set against Flavia, as we have done previously, is also a big help for me.”

 

Previews
Garbiñe Muguruza [2] v Petra Kvitova [4] – H2H: First meeting

Perhaps it is a rarity at this stage of the year, with the top women to still find an occasion where the Top Ten have not met each other yet. Then again it is a testament to the meteoric rise of Muguruza this year.

On probably one of the more headache-inducing scenarios, where the demon words of ‘Percentage-games won’ rears its ugly head, we can at least hope to settle back and see if Muguruza can continue to push ahead where other breakthrough doyenne’s have failed.

Even the ever charming Muguruza felt she had already displayed a better turn of foot that her Wimbledon finalist predecessor Genie Bouchard.

She told the media in Singapore: “It’s an example of something that can happen, obviously. I think it’s hard to manage a lot of things. It’s not a good example. But hopefully I can manage better these kind of situations and avoid a little bit my spirit down kind of. So just try not to happen this to me.”

She has not had the easiest of rides since charming the socks of us all in Wimbledon. Her US summer hard court swing was unremarkable, she parted company with her coaching team and started to work with Sam Sumyk, who paired up with Bouchard after parting company with Victoria Azarenka after this year’s Australian Open.

Her Asian swing has been tremendous in comparison with the quarter-finals of Tokyo and two finals in a row, losing to Venus Williams in Wuhan before winning her biggest title to date in Beijing. The challenge is on now to back that up.

Meanwhile even though Kvitova has nothing to prove, winner of two Wimbledon titles and the 2011 champion at the season ending finale, she seems to be struggling to hold on to her motivation at the end of the year. A lacklustre performance against Angelique Kerber in the opening round put her on the back foot.

Her year has, of course, been blighted by exhaustion, a mono diagnosis and with just this and the Fed Cup final to go, it will be the end of a roller-coaster year for her.

In the never ending maelstrom of scenarios, Kvitova needs a solid win and/or hopes that countrywoman Lucie Safarova either forces Angelique Kerber to three sets or wins convincingly.

On her current form though, it would be hard to see Muguruza not emerging victorious and for all but one of the scenarios, the Spaniard looks to come out on top.

Muguruza and Kvitova are scheduled on Stadium Court not before 2pm (6am GMT).

 

Angelique Kerber [6] v Lucie Safarova [8] – H2H: 1-1

The last of the leftie battles takes place on Friday afternoon and with it the head scratching around the scenarios finally come to an end. With an evenly matched head to head, albeit with their last encounter a year ago, the momentum lies with the German as she strives to get out of the round robin stages for the first time in three appearances at the year end championships.

Having been at the centre of the ‘is-she, isn’t she’ qualification furore, needless to say Kerber was done counting on fingers and toes for what she needs to advance. Essentially she needs to win this in two sets, and hope that Muguruza gets the job done against Kvitova, so once again it would be on other people’s hands.

Safarova has played well here in Singapore, as she continues to get her fitness back after the bacterial infection that knocked her for six after the US Open, causing her to miss the Asian swing altogether.

Although the Czech took the honours the last time they met, almost a year ago in the Fed Cup final, Kerber has looked very solid and even though she lost to Muguruza, it was a tight match with some high quality tennis on show.

While Kerber has not maybe done as well in the Slams, she felt justifiably proud of maintaining her consistent presence in the top 10 for the fourth year in a row, with four titles this year. In her current form it is just hard to see past a Kerber win.

Kerber and Safarova are scheduled not before 3:30pm (7:30am GMT).

Britwatch Sport’s Ros Satar is covering the WTA Finals in Singapore for Tennis Panorama Now. Read her match reports here.

 

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