By Ros Satar, in Singapore

  • Karolina Pliskova v Venus Williams
  • Garbiñe Muguruza v Jelena Ostapenko
SINGAPORE – The WTA Finals kicks off with the Slam champions front and centre on Day One, with Karolina Pliskova facing Venus Williams, followed by Garbiñe Muguruza against Jelena Ostapenko.

 

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Karolina Pliskova v Venus Williams | H2H: 1-1

It is difficult to say who might feel the more confident for the first pair out of the gate on Sunday. Karolina Pliskova made her debut at the WTA Finals last year but the comparative slowness of the court made for a brutally long encounter with Svetlana Kuznetsova that left her spent for her next match. She left with a single win (against Garbiñe Muguruza).

This time around, with some solid practice time, she knows a little more of what to expect. Talking to reporters in the pre-tournament press conference, she said:

“I have few days of good practice. I have a good team here this year, so I’m enjoying every minute actually here this year. So far everything is working well.

“I have been experienced from last year, so I’m feeling well this year. Better than I was feeling last year. Tomorrow it’s starting for me, it’s my first match, so hopefully I can play better than I was playing last year. I have a tough group, as we all see, but I’m looking forward to the matches.

“Even with the surface, it’s a little bit unusual, the surface, so we don’t have it anywhere on the tour. So I feel like I have played on the surface couple of hours, like, a lot of hours last year, so I just want to take advantage from that, as well.”

We could expect a long one from the pair. Venus Williams beat her in the Zhuhai final a couple of years ago, but Pliskova has the most recent honours last year at the US Open, in the fourth round, coming from a set down on her way to her first Slam final.

While Williams is no stranger to season ending finales, this is her first time in Singapore. She made her debut at Madison Square Gardens in 1999, winning in 2008 and losing to Serena Williams the following year, when the tournament had moved to Doha.

Several sponsors and locations later, she makes her fifth appearance and along with Pliskova is one of seven women in contention to grab the year-end No. 1 spot. Williams was giving nothing away in press though, but expects to be out there for a while, saying:

“The court is extremely slow. So you’ll probably see some long points and some long matches, you know, some long points at the end of the year.”

Pliskova will want to play to her title of the Ace Queen, and it will be challenging to play her style of attacking tennis on a court that will give Williams every chance to get balls back. The Williams agility around the court may have slowed a little over time but her wingspan and feel at the net could make things interesting.

The Czech is certainly not averse to following up at the net, and can indeed turn around a high percentage of winners off serve and volley so we could be in for a long match to kick things off on the weekend.

Prediction: Pliskova in three sets.

 

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Garbiñe Muguruza v Jelena Ostapenko | H2H: Muguruza leads 2-1

Two of this year’s Slam winners go head to head for the fourth time in the evening, as the first day of the WTA Finals draws to a close. Muguruza had control over Jelena Ostapenko, until this year in Wuhan where the feisty Latvian came back from a set down to beat Muguruza in the quarter-final.

Things were a little different for the Spaniard this time around in her lead up to the event as she had already qualified early by the time she started in Asia. What was pleasing to see was that this time around after her Slam victory at Wimbledon, she was able to keep some of that momentum going towards the US Open and beyond, before illness laid her low

She said, before the tournament: “The previous years in Singapore I qualified, you know, in the last tournaments, but this year I felt like I knew in the American swing that I was already qualified.

“There is always a very tough field, and I was actually watching the draw and I didn’t have a big preference, because I know all of them are going to play very good. Especially this year it is so competitive and equal. But I guess the big hitters are in the right team.”

She continued: “I think I’m a more experienced player. I played important matches in my career. This is not the first WTA Finals that I play. Everything counts.

“I feel more a complete player, if I look back three, four years ago. Even one year ago I feel already much more mature. I know it’s not the perfect word, but more experienced.”

Ostapenko still looks like she is riding the crest of the wave of her success earlier this year at the French Open. A first timer here, she comes in with an impressive season on the hard courts of Asia with a title, and a couple of semi-finals to her name.

In the group of big hitters, she was confident she had both the game and experience to have them meet their match.

Ostapenko said: “It’s going to be interesting matches, but the good thing that is I played against all the players in my group, so I kind of know how they play, and I’m going to try to show my best.”

The Latvian may trail Muguruza in their head to head, but not only does she have the most recent win, she has it on hard courts, but the surface here is a lot different as an indoor surface.

“We played our last match two weeks ago, and it was a very good match. Of course she’s a great player. She had a great season so far. It’s great to play indoors because you have no sun, no wind. But the court I think is pretty slow.”

We can expect her to try and move Muguruza around the court and to play the lines. With the merest outside chance of being one of the seven women to lay claim to the year-end World No. 1 we can expect her to play the same kind of fearless tennis she has shown this year, especially on the way to her maiden Slam.

Muguruza has the full package – she can defend, moves well around the court and can attack solidly. She generates a lot of power behind her shots and if Ostapenko gives her the chance to dominate, well we can settle in for another long one.

Prediction: Muguruza in three sets.

 

Pliskova & Williams are scheduled at 5pm (10am BST), with Muguruza & Ostapenko not before 7:30pm (12:30pm BST).

 

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