WTA Finals Preview: Ashleigh Barty leads eight top-ranked players in quest for biggest prize purse in tennis
WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China will pit the highest ranked eight women players in the world. At stake are plenty of points and a jaw dropping prize purse of $14 million.
Ashleigh Barty comes into the season-ending WTA FInals as the top-ranked player in the world
WTA Finals feature the top-8 ranked players in the world competing in a round-robin format
WTA Finals will be contested in Shenzhen, China with the winner taking home close to $4 million
The four Grand Slam champions have made it, the player with the most titles has made it, the players with the most finals have made it, the prize money and points leader has made it. In some cases they overlap each other but the WTA Finals see a strong line-up of top eight players in the year. Players who will be competing in the WTA Finals for the first time, some veterans of the year-ending championship, the Slam champions and others who have been rewarded for their success on the tour.
Not to be reduced to a footnote, the winner of WTA Finals could take home a staggering $4.7 million - more than what was on offer at the US Open recently ($3.8 million). The tournament which has moved from Singapore last year to Shenzhen in China has seen a massive jump in its total prize money: $7 million in 2018 to $14 million now. One would argue that's a lot for a week's work but it is worth reminding that the tournament pits the top-8 players in the world and they've worked the entire year (and more!) for it.
The final eight thus comprises of: World No 1 and Roland Garros champion Ashleigh Barty, Karolina Pliskova, Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Belinda Bencic and defending WTA Finals champion Elina Svitolina. They've been further drawn into Red and Purple Group for a round-robin format.
Red Group: Barty, Osaka, Kvitova and Bencic.
Purple Group: Pliskova, Andreescu, Halep and Svitolina.
Kvitova and Svitolina are the only former champions in the fray. Andreescu and Bencic are competing for the first time while Barty is in the singles department for the very first time. A quick glance and both groups look well balanced: Two Grand Slam winners from 2019, one former WTA Finals champion coupled with a player who is knocking on the door of a Grand Slam title.
Barty and Osaka have tussled for the World No 1 ranking repeatedly since the Australian's remarkable run in Paris. Barty has risen the charts with her consistent performances and on a variety of surfaces: Miami Open on the hardcourts, Roland Garros on clay and Birmingham on grass. Not so surprisingly, she edged Osaka to become the first Australian woman to claim the top rank since 1976. Her journey ever since hasn't been as trophy-laden though: Fourth round at Wimbledon, first round in Toronto, fourth round at the US Open. But the Asian swing has been significantly better with a semi-final in Wuhan and final in Beijing. Barty holds a negative win-loss record against Osaka and Kvitova and has never faced Bencic.
Osaka had an incredible 2018 and started 2019 in glorious fashion - with a title in Melbourne. From the highs of becoming the first player to win her maiden Slams back-to-back came the lows amid coaching issues and struggle with life-tennis balance.
She admitted to not enjoying her tennis with results, injury and split with longtime coach Sascha Bajin the factors. She split with Jermaine Jenkins in September and returned to working with her dad. The change has meant better results. Consecutive titles in Tokyo and Beijing, run of 10 matches unbeaten, with wins over Andreescu and Barty would surely boost her confidence.
— WTA (@WTA) October 25, 2019
Kvitova had a great start to the year with title in Sydney and final of Australian Open (losing to Osaka in a three setter). She continued that run to Stuttgart but before she could add more to her kitty, a left forearm injury forced her into missing a major chunk of the calendar. She sat out Roland Garros and only played Wimbledon because of the sentimental factor associated with the Czech player being a former winner. Since May, she has played only 14 matches with semi-finals in Wuhan the best showing. For Kvitova, playing in her seventh WTA Finals, it would be important to get some competition under her belt before closing the season out.
Bencic was the last player to secure a spot in the WTA Finals having won the title in Moscow to deny Serena Williams a berth. From World No 55 at the beginning of the year with back and wrist injuries behind her, the Swiss has made giant strides through the year. Title in Dubai helped strengthen her belief of competing with the best in the world and run to the US Open semi-final took it up a notch. Bencic can take further confidence from the fact that she's beaten Osaka in all three of their meetings this year (Indian Wells, Madrid, and Flushing Meadows).
Ashleigh Barty vs Naomi Osaka: 1-2
Ashleigh Barty vs Petra Kvitova: 2-4
Ashleigh Barty vs Belinda Bencic: 0-0
Naomi Osaka vs Petra Kvitova: 1-0
Naomi Osaka vs Belinda Bencic: 1-3
Petra Kvitova vs Belinda Bencic: 1-4
No player has been as consistent on the WTA Tour as Pliskova. She leads the charts with titles won (4) and final appearances (5, alongside Barty) but what evades her is a Grand Slam. She clinched titles in Brisbane, Rome, Eastbourne, Zhengzhou to highlight her ability to be dominant on multiple surfaces. Her highlight of 2019 has to be a comeback from 1-5 down against Serena, saving four match points along the way, to move forward. The World No 2, though, would hope to end the season on a more robust note.
If one were to compare seasons, Andreescu's 2019 can be likened to Osaka's 2018. Breakthrough titles, Slam success and a career best ranking to go with it. The Canadian began the year as World No 152 and has not looked back. She won Indian Wells as a wild card but couldn't replicate her success on grass due to a shoulder injury. Maybe that is the time away she needed with mesmerising play in the US Open series. She won in Toronto and then the US Open beating Serena in both finals. Not one to be phased by the occasion, she has won eight of nine matches this year against top-10 opponents. Her first defeat in a completed match since March came in Beijing against Osaka.
— WTA (@WTA) October 26, 2019
It hasn't been an overly successful season by Halep's lofty standards. She split with coach Darren Cahill in the off-season last year and lost the finals of Doha and Madrid in the early parts of the year. But the biggest upset was her Roland Garros title defence going down in miserable fashion (2-6, 4-6 to unseeded Amanda Anisimova). Turnaround, surprisingly, came on grass. She reached the quarters in Eastbourne before lifting the coveted Wimbledon trophy (beating Svitolina in the semi-final). The Romanian played in the Asian swing but with back injury troubling her. She has since taken the time to rehabilitate and regroup with Cahill by her side for the WTA Finals and next season.
By way of ranking, Svitolina is the final entrant to the list and it never looked like Serena was coming for the last spot either. Ukrainian hasn't had the greatest of years with no titles, no forays to the final and to make it even troubling, she lost all five semi-finals that she contested including against Halep at Sw19 and Serena at US Open. Expecting the defending champion to replicate her success of 2018 in the season-ender would be a long shot.
Karolina Pliskova vs Bianca Andreescu: 0-1
Karolina Pliskova vs Simona Halep: 3-7
Karolina Pliskova vs Elina Svitolina: 5-3
Bianca Andreescu vs Simona Halep: 0-0
Bianca Andreescu vs Elina Svitolina: 1-0
Simona Halep vs Elina Svitolina: 4-4
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