The cosmopolitan city of Singapore receives for the first time the best women’s tennis players of the world in the much-anticipated WTA Finals tournament. Rebranded from the previous designation as WTA Championships, the event will feature the eight best singles players of the year in a round robin type format, with the players divided in two groups of four. Let’s take a look at each competitor and recap their season.
Serena Williams (1)
Winner of this competition in 2013, her fourth title in the season ending tournament, the 2014 season of the American veteran did not match the shine of the previous year, when 11 titles, including at Roland Garros and the US Open, comprised the best year of her illustrious career. Early exits on the clay and grass majors were huge disappointments, with winning performances in New York, Brisbane, Miami, Rome, Stanford and Cincinnati as the high points. Thus, the world’s best player is under pressure in Singapore. Her lead on the ranking shrank to less than 500 points after the last update and, with 1500 points to defend, anything short of a win could not be enough to secure the fourth number one season of his career. Moreover, her physical condition might not be ideal, since after winning the US Open, her 18th Grand Slam, Serena retired in Wuhan, and walked out before the quarters in Beijing with a left knee injury that put her presence on the Finals in danger. However, with a combined 11-1 record against her group opponents, Serena looks to be at ease in the preliminary stage, getting ready for a possible showdown later with rival Maria Sharapova.
Simona Halep (4)
Third woman to secure a place in Singapore, the Romanian proved in 2014 that her breakthrough performance at the end of 2013 was no fluke. Despite conquering only 2 tournaments, Doha and Bucharest, after the six wins of 2013, Halep reached her first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros, losing to Sharapova, and was close to a second one in Wimbledon, before being defeated in the semis by Genie Bouchard. A surprising loss in the round of 32 of the US Open signalized a weak end of the season, but the aggressive baseliner has all the conditions to aspire to a good result in Singapore, fighting for a place in the semis with Bouchard and Ivanovic. Just the third Romanian to appear in the WTA top 10 list, the 23-year old debuts at the end of the year tournament after reaching a career-best second place in the world rankings back in August.
Eugenie Bouchard (5)
The biggest surprise of the tour in 2014, Bouchard exploded quickly into the top 10 after an impressive junior career and a promising 2013 season. Her semi-final at the Australian Open stunned everyone and the young Canadian never looked back, winning in Nurnberg, repeating the semis performance at Roland Garros and going one step further in Wimbledom, ultimately falling to Petra Kvitova. After that, the North-American hard court season didn’t go as planned, with sub-par showings at home on the Rogers Cup and at the US Open, but the 20-year old rebounded to reach her third WTA final of the season in Wuhan and secure a place in Singapore. Probably the first of many presences at the WTA Finals, the Canadian will take part in what looks to be the three-player battle for the second place on the red group.
Ana Ivanovic (7)
The former Roland Garros champion had a surprising surge up the rankings in 2014. The Serbian’s year started with a win in Auckland, her first title in more than two years, and continued with a strong showing at the Australian Slam, defeating the favourite Serena Williams in route to the quarters. Despite not impressing in the rest of the majors, Ivanovic collected points in smaller tournaments, reached five more finals, winning in Monterrey, Birmingham and Tokyo, and quietly rose up the rankings, booking her spot in the year-end tournament for the first time since 2008. A former world number one, this event seems like a good chance to evaluate her chances of battling again for the top tournaments.
Maria Sharapova (2)
The precocious ending to the 2013 season, missing out on the US Open and the WTA Championships, was probably responsible for a less than ideal beginning of 2014, with the Russian never looking comfortable. However, when the clay court season rolled around, Sharapova regained her best form and powered through Stuttgart, Madrid and Roland Garros, failing only to leave her mark in Rome, eliminated by Ana Ivanovic. Beaten in the round of 16 both at Wimbledon and New York, the Siberian regained her confidence with a win in Beijing and arrives in Singapore hoping to take her second Finals title and overthrow Serena as the best player of the year, a distinction she never got before. Although, in order to do that, she will probably need to beat her rival, something she hasn’t done in 10 years, holding a 2-16 record against the American.
Petra Kvitova (3)
Since 2011, when she surprised by taking her first major title at Wimbledon, the Czech has been an irregular player. Capable of overpowering most of her opponents, Kvitova failed to reach another Grand Slam final until July, when, back at the iconic grass of London, she reclaimed her title after beating with ease Eugenie Bouchard. Bounced very early in the other three slams, the 24-year old appeared in good shape in September, taking the spoils in Wuhan and losing in the final at Beijing. Now, on her fourth consecutive presence in the final tournament of the season, Kvitova hopes to repeat the achievement of 2011, when she coupled the Masters to the British Slam.
Agnieszka Radwanska (6)
At the age of 25, Radwanska has already been a top 10 player in the WTA Tour for six seasons, but despite all the talent, she still has to breakthrough in the big competitions. A single Grand Slam final, at the 2012 Wimbledon tournament, is a weak reward for all those years of beautiful, smart tennis. The soft-touch Polish won an important event in 2014, the Rogers Cup, after winning three WTA titles in each of the last three seasons, but disappointed yet again with defeats to unheralded opponents at the French, British and American Majors, and a tough loss to Dominika Cibulkova on the semis at Melbourne Park. A lost final in Indian Wells, against Flavia Pennetta, and a semi-final defeat to Maria Sharapova in Madrid, are the only other note-worthy results of an inconsistent season. Despite the five previous presences, the WTA Championships have also never been kind to Radwanska, with a single appearance past the group phase, in 2012, as another example of the inadequate resume sported by one of the most popular players on the Tour.
Caroline Wozniacki (8)
A former world number one and the “best” player of the 2010 and 2011 seasons, the steady Dane finished the last two years just inside the top 10, but never looked like a real contender to win a major tournament. That did not change in 2014, with Wozniacki sneaking into the WTA finals after the retirement of Li Na, but she did manage to keep her streak of six consecutive years with a WTA tournament win, after claiming the title in Istanbul. A surprising run all the way to the final at the US Open, where she lost with her close friend Serena Williams, remembered most tennis fans that the 24-year is still a player to reckon, with her spot in Singapore arriving after the lost final at Tokyo. A finalist in 2010, Wozniacki is the last seed of the tournament and her chances of repeating that result seem, at the very least, questionable.
Angelique Kerber and Ekaterina Makarova are also in Singapore as alternate players. The German, number 10 in the World, lost the four finals she played this season (Eastbourne, Stanford, Sidney and Qatar), with a quarter-final appearance at Wimbledon counting as her best result of the year in the Grand Slams. The 26-year Russian enjoyed her best season to date, reaching her first Grand Slam semi-final at the US Open and being a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon. She also won her second career WTA title, triumphing in Pattaya City back in January.