By Ros Satar, in Singapore
- Venus Williams will face Caroline Wozniacki for the WTA Finals title
SINGAPORE – From eight we are now left with two of the most resurgent players this season to battle it out fore the title – Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki.
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Caroline Wozniacki – Path to the Final
From the outset, Caroline Wozniacki has looked like the player to beat. She was in commanding form in her opener. She battered the No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina in the opening round robin, and then did exactly the same to the world No. 1, Simona Halep.
She said, after her first win: “I think this court rewards the player that has good hands, in particular. I think because this court you can’t just play offence or you can’t just play defence, you’ll get — you know, maybe you can win one match like that, but to play consistent on this court, you need to be able to run a lot of balls down and wait for your opportunity to really hit through the court.”
She met her match though in Caroline Garcia. Perhaps out of all the players at this year’s tournament, she was the one with the least expectations – she had been expecting a battle with Britain’s Johanna Konta to come right down to the wire, and in the end was gifted the place with the labouring Brit pulling out of Moscow.
Wozniacki delivered her third bagel set at the start of that match and it must have looked like plain sailing, but the Frenchwoman was the first person to really give her some pause for thought. Garcia took the inititaive in the second set, and clawed her way back from the brink to not only beat the best performing player at the tournament, but Svitolina’s win over a Halep put the Frenchwoman at the top of the group.
Her victory over Karolina Pliskova was also a hard fought affair. The momentum swings made for a fascinating first set, and for a while it looked as though the Dane was going to be pegged back, with the real drama coming in a terse tie-break. Going from 6-1 up, Wozniacki saw her set points eroded by Pliskova, before both put in a fair bit of pain and torture. Each had six set points, and winning it proved to be the pivotal moment.
Wozniacki explaiend: “At 6-All I was ready to just kill myself, basically. I was, like, this is not fun. I started thinking I should have lost this set already, so actually this is just a bonus. So I had a lot of talks with myself at that point.
“Just kept fighting. It went back and forth. Still, she had a few more set points, and I managed to win that first set. I think it was very important. You know, I think that broke her a little bit. I think it was important for both of us to get that first one.At 6-All I was ready to just kill myself, basically. I was, like, this is not fun. I started thinking I should have lost this set already, so actually this is just a bonus. So I had a lot of talks with myself at that point.
Venus Williams – Path to the Final
Perhaps more notable though – she is the only player in this year’s field to have qualified for the Finals without having won a title this year, although winning this would be her 50th career singles title.
There was not a whole heap she did wrong in her opening round. Pliskova was full of confidence having been on this court last year, and felt more confident of dealing with its quirks.
The second match looked to be an entirely different affair. Also smarting from an opening defeat, she dealt with the spirited resistance of Jelena Ostapenko who put up a fight to drag Williams into a 3 hour 13 minute marathon. It was the sixth match to pass the three hour mark, with the most amount of games in a three set match at 37.
We expected an equally bruising encounter in a winner-takes-all match between this year’s Wimbledon finalists, but Garbiñe Muguruza looked flat and listless, and for Williams it was a chance to put the Wimbledon final aside (not that she would admit that after the match).
Facing Garcia in the semi-final – the surprise winner of the other group), the pair went toe-to-toe in a gripping first set. With just a single trade of breaks early in the set, the momentum-hopping that came in the first set tie-break saw Garcia come back from 0-3 down to win seven points on the trot to take the lead.
The Frenchwoman lost a little bit of her spark though, never really recovering as Williams sped ahead from 3-0 ahead to level the match.
It came down to just a single break – and while Garcia had managed to pull off the houdini trick of a 3-5 deficit to turn things around, this was one match too far.
Williams said, after the match: “I haven’t played [Garcia] in a long time. It’s hard to gauge what to expect, you know, coming across the net. She’s improved her game so much. Of course I had a lot of respect for her. I think in the second and third I was able to figure it out a little more.”
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Williams  v Wozniacki  | H2H: Williams leads 7-0
Despite both players enjoying a real upswing in their seasons, the head to head will still make sobering reading for Wozniacki. Admittedly the last time they played was two years ago when Wozniacki arguably had her closest two losses to the American in the Auckland final and in Miami.
It is clear that while this court does seem to favour Wozniacki’s style of play, to just assume that Williams has got this far by just hitting through the court would be a misnomer. She has deftly packaged up solid hitting with great court coverage and variety to her game.
But she will have to run and run. Wozniacki’s stats have been outstanding this week, topping lists left and right, and but for her slip against Garcia, she would have had a blemish-free record here.
Williams has adapted her game – and seen results. She changed her game style to more of a counterpunching style to frustrate Coco Vandeweghe in the Australian Open semi-final, and she will need to do more of the same if she wants to keep her head to head intact against the Dane.
Obviously with that deficit, it was small wonder that Wozniacki had not wanted to dwell on it much, saying:
“I have had a tough matchup against her in the past, but I haven’t played her in a while. She’s obviously a great champion and a great player. It would be really tough. She’s had a great year. She hasn’t played many tournaments, but the tournaments that she’s played she’s done really well in.”
Williams was equally vague: “She’s playing well. I haven’t really seen her play a lot. I haven’t played her in ages. I have to gauge how it goes and try to figure out the solution.
“At this level I think we’ve both improved our game. You have to to stay on tour. So I will see what she’s doing, see what’s working. It is a tough one to call, but perhaps Wozniacki has the edge this time around.”
Prediction: Wozniacki in three sets.
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