By Ros Satar
- The WTA season comes to a conclusion for the top players in Singapore as the eight highest performers face each other in the WTA Finals in Singapore
- Serena Williams’ withdrawal opens the door for the last spot… but who will fill it?
- We give you a run down of the faces we’ll be watching in Singapore
SINGAPORE – It all comes down to this – well for the very best at any rate, but with the final spot still up for grabs, who are the names to watch?
The quietly determined German really catapulted herself into the top flight when she delivered a career defining performance in Melbourne, defeating defending champion and then World No. 1 Serena Williams to claim her first Grand Slam title.
The inevitable media whirlwind that followed her about saw her fend off many questions about being the first German since Steffi Graf to lift a Grand Slam title, to reach No. 1 and all the while Kerber patiently answered them all.
Not only that – questions about longevity, to put in politely, which first Flavia Pennetta lifting the 2015 US Open, aged 33 have also been fired at her. She is currently 28 and that makes her the oldest to make her first claim on the No. 1 spot.
The secret to her success, from turning round her fortunes in 2011, after 5 back to back first round losses, she gradually built herself back up culminating in a run to her first Slam semi-final at the US Open. From 2012 she has been a solid fixture in the World Top 10.
But it was the nerves – the mere fact she had to win a single set off Lucie Safarova to make the semi-finals last year in Singapore was enough to send her into a tailspin. Yet it was to be the making of her. She vowed to never be that affected again, starting 2016 with a run to the Brisbane final before her gallop to the top in Melbourne.
She will have locked in the World No. 1 spot for the year end for the first time in her career – can she get out of the Round Robin stages for the first time.
The ‘ninja’ or ‘La Professora’ – all worthy nicknames for the defending champion as she heads back to Singapore in top of a solid Asian swing. Quarter-finals in Wuhan and Tianjin, semi-finals in Tokyo and the title in Beijing have all served as a good warm-up for the WTA Finals.
Much like Kerber she is seen as one of the most consistent players on the tour. She may not have the best serve or clout behind her ground strokes like the big hitters, but she has court-smarts like no other, and seems to be the permanent recipient of the the monthly WTA Hot Shots with her crazy use of angles.
The one thing that is now missing from her illustrious career is a Grand Slam title, having lifted the biggest title of her career so far last year in Singapore. Plenty still think that grass is still her best bet for the big silverware.
Halep checks in to Singapore for the third straight year, even though her start this year was less than stellar, struggling with injury and illness. But she has stuck with it, and really seemed to hit her stride in the hard court summer, winning back to back titles in Bucharest and Montreal, and then making it to the Cincinnati quarter-final.
She might not be out of the woods injury wise – she was struggling with her hamstring in Tokyo, but she can look back at her debut in Singapore where she battered Williams in the Round Robin 6-0 6-2 before Williams got her revenge to loft the year end title.
Last year was not so clear cut, as she was edged out in the group stages, but surely must fancy her chances this year for coming out of the that stage for the second time.
The big hitting Czech announced her presence in fine form at the tail end of the year, preventing Kerber from grabbing the World No. 1 spot in Cincinnati, and then facing her again, this time in the US Open final.
There is a lot to be said for experience though – Kerber now in her third Slam final of the year edged the Czech in one of the best finals we have seen in New York. Still, Ploskova could add taking out both Williams sisters, on home soil no less, in the same tournament.
Pliskova came close to making the finals last year, but went on to make the finals of the next tier season-end finals in Zhuhai (losing to Venus Williams in a tight 7-5 7-6(6) final). Not only that but she is in the singles and the doubles having qualified with partner Julia Goerges.
What to watch out for? Her big serve gets her plenty of free points and she hits solid ground-strokes. She freely admits she needs to improve her movement, but it will be interesting to see what a medium-slow hard indoor court can do for her.
With all the hubbub around Williams’ withdrawal and Kerber wrapping up the World No. 1, we seem to have overlooked the other Slam winner in the mix – Muguruza. That sublime lob that Williams in No-Man’s land on the terre-battue saw Muguruza join the ranks of the maiden Slam winners after winning hearts all over the year before with her run to the Wimbledon final.
She arrives in her second straight WTA Finals, and she could pass on a word or two to Pliskova about having to pack in the Sinfles and the doubles. She was invincible in the Round Robin Stages and many thought she was a shoe-in for making the final on her debut, but she was edged out in the semi-finals by Radwanska.
However it has not all been plain sailing for the Spaniard who had early second round exits at both Wimbledon and the US Open, but has been consistent on some of the bigger tournaments on the tour.
There may be question-marks about her fitness coming in to Singapore though – she rolled her ankle in Linz and may struggle to match her run to the semi-finals this time around.
Another first timer – but after battling with injuries since making the Australian Open semi-final in 2015, defeating Venus Williams and bowing out to Serena in the next round, it is Keys who will be flying the flag for the USA after the younger Williams’ withdrawal.
This has been an outstanding year for Keys, breaking into the Top 10, picking up a second grass court title this time in Birmingham, and following it up with a solid Asian swing which sets her up nicely for her Singapore debut.
After her run to the Australian Open final in 2014, and backing it up with titles in Acapulco and Kuala Lumpur she looked like she was all set for the year end finals, but the hard court summer saw her struggle, putting her into the (then) Tournament of Champions instead.
Worse was to come with an Achilles injury wiping her off the tour for four months, and as she started to build herself back up, she started to challenge once more in the bigger matches. She was back to winning ways this year in Katowice and she backed that up with a run to the Madrid final where she lost to an inspired Halep.
She won the title in Eastbourne (beating Pliskova) and almost had to postpone her wedding when she looked like she was going all the way at Wimbledon, eventually reaching the quarter-finals.
Her summer has seen her pick up the pace, making the final in Wuhan (losing to Petra Kvitova) and winning the Linz title, and locking up her spot in the WTA Finals for her Singapore debut.
Johanna Konta or Svetlana Kuznetsova
The Road to Singapore has come right down to the wire. With Williams’ withdrawal and after her great run to the Beijing final, and picking up her spot in the Top 10, Konta is in the eight spot, but an abdominal injury which forced her to retire shortly before her second round match in Hong Kong.
Konta’s run may have had its grass roots (literally) at the hands of the LTA handing her wildcards for last year’s home tournaments, but it was her run to the fourth round of the US Open in 2015 that helped set the scene for her breakthrough year.
She made the semi-finals of a Grand Slam in Australia for the first time, she won her first WTA title, beating Venus Williams in Stanford, and reached the final of a Premier Mandatory in Beijing, which gave Britain its first Top 10 placing since Jo Durie in 1984.
If she is fit enough to compete it would be a fantastic cap to an extraordinary year.
The only person that can stop her now is tour veteran Kuznetsova – who must defend her title in Moscow to guarantee that final berth. She is no stranger to the season-ending finals though, making her debt at the 2004 Tour Championships in the USA, before a steady run between 2006-2009.
She did make the Zhuhai championships last year but retired in her second round robin match. She has never made it out of the group stages in any of the season ending finales.
The WTA Finals BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global takes place between 23-30 October.
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