WTA Finals: With 7 players in contention for World No 1, season-ending event aptly represents topsy-turvy season

Here’s a look at how the eight players to have qualified for WTA Finals have fared in 2017 and previewing their chances at Singapore.

Nikhila Makker October 21, 2017 21:21:43 IST
WTA Finals: With 7 players in contention for World No 1, season-ending event aptly represents topsy-turvy season

The 2017 WTA season saw four different Grand Slam champions – Serena Williams, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza and Sloane Stephens. Over the last 10 months, the World No 1 ranking changed hands between five different players – Serena, Angelique Kerber, Karolina Pliskova, Muguruza and Simona Halep.

After Serena shut her season down due to pregnancy, the WTA has been in a state of unpredictable yet entertaining flux. There has rarely been a clear-cut favourite at most of the tournaments through the season, and a lack in consistency from the top-10 players has only added to the drama.

As we head into the season-ending WTA Finals at Singapore, the year of uncertainty looks set to continue. Current World No 1 Halep enters as the top seed, but six other players (Muguruza, Pliskova, Elina Svitolina, Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Ostapenko) have a chance of dethroning Halep to take over atop the WTA rankings.

At the WTA Finals, the top-eight players are divided into two groups of four. The format includes round robin matches, following which the top-two players from each group move into the semi-finals.

WTA Finals With 7 players in contention for World No 1 seasonending event aptly represents topsyturvy season

(L-R) Caroline Garcia, Caroline Wozniacki, Elina Svitolina, Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova, Venus Williams and Jelena Ostapenko pose during the draw ceremony of the WTA Finals. Getty

Halep is joined in the Red Group by Svitolina, Wozniacki and Caroline Garcia, while Muguruza will face Pliskova, Venus Williams and Ostapenko in the White Group. Here’s a look at how the eight players have fared in 2017 and previewing their chances at Singapore.

Red Group

Head-to-head records for the players in Red Group

vs Halep vs Svitolina vs Wozniacki vs Garcia
Simona Halep (1) -- 2-2 2-3 2-1
Elina Svitolina (4) 2-2 -- 3-0 1-1
Caroline Wozniacki (6) 3-2 0-3 -- 2-0
Caroline Garcia (8) 1-2 1-1 0-2 ---

Entering the fourth WTA Finals of her career, Halep has been the one of the most consistent players on tour with one title (Madrid) and four finals appearances (Rome, Roland Garros, Cincinnati and Beijing) to her name. After an injury-marred start to her year, she lifted her game during the claycourt season.

Post Stuttgart Open, Halep made at least the quarter-finals of all but two tournaments – US Open and Wuhan – which is a testament to her consistent play. The Romanian’s first final at Beijing helped her clinch the World No 1 ranking.

Halep plays No 8 Caroline Garcia to start her campaign on Monday, a re-match of the China Open final that the Frenchwoman won. Garcia is the only player not in contention for the No 1 ranking. However, Garcia comes to Singapore riding a wave of confidence and is in red-hot form.

The 24-year-old Garcia stormed into Singapore by becoming the first player to win Wuhan and Beijing back-to-back. She won 11 straight matches – which included three top-10 victories – to claim the first Premier 5 and Premier Mandatory titles of her career last month.

Garcia has earlier reached the quarter-finals at Roland Garros for her career-best result at a Slam. After her magical fortnight in China, Garcia entered the world's top-10 for the first time, and will be making her WTA Finals debut on Monday.

Another player making her debut this year is Ukraine’s Svitolina. The year 2017 has been a breakthrough one for the World No 4 as she won five titles (Taipei City, Dubai, Istanbul, Rome and Toronto) this season and has the highest winning percentage among the top-10 players – 81 percent with a 51-12 win-loss record.

Svitolina has steadily grown from strength to strength and has evolved into a tactical counter-puncher with a solid overall game. While the 23-year-old lacks a booming serve or a powerful groundstroke weapon, her intelligent defensive play makes her one of the most difficult players to battle against.

The Ukranian’s quarter-final appearance at the French Open was also her career-best result at a Slam. While she has produced great results on the WTA tour, it’s the Majors where she has narrowly missed out. The Red Group presents a great opportunity for Svitolina to make the semi-finals as she has a 2-2 record against Halep, 1-1 against Garcia and leads 3-0 against Wozniacki.

For Wozniacki, 2017 has been a season of resurgence. The Dane has firmly cemented her spot in the top-10 after falling as low as 74 in 2016. Wozniacki reached seven finals (Doha, Dubai, Miami, Eastbourne, Bastad, Toronto and Tokyo) and won only one of those – Tokyo Open. She also made the second week of French Open and Wimbledon.

The former World No 1 will be in action at the year-end showpiece for the fifth time, having last qualified in 2014. In 2010, Wozniacki had made the final of this event, which has been her best showing at the WTA Finals. She will be aiming to do one better this time around.

White Group

Head-to-head records for the players in White Group

vs Muguruza vs Pliskova vs Venus vs Ostapenko
Garbine Muguruza (2) -- 2-6 2-3 2-1
Karolina Pliskova (3) 6-2 -- 1-1 2-0
Venus Williams (5) 3-2 1-1 -- 1-0
Jelena Ostapenko (7) 1-2 0-2 0-1 --

Wimbledon champion and the second seed Muguruza heads the White Group, which comprises big-hitters and ball-bashers. The Spaniard was named the Player of the Year for 2017 on Friday for her achievements including her second Grand Slam title and clinching the World No 1 ranking.

Looking back at Muguruza’s 2017 season, it seems like the pressure of defending her Roland Garros crown was perhaps too much to handle for the 22-year-old. Following her Round of 16 exit at the French Open, Muguruza has played with a consistency and confidence that is in stark contrast to her previous year.

After winning Wimbledon, Muguruza reached the final at Cincinnati and the semi-finals of two other tournaments (Stanford and Tokyo). She is one of only two players to have reached the second week at all four Slams in 2017. She trails Halep by just 40 points in the WTA rankings and has an excellent chance of finishing the year as the World No 1.

However, in the White Group, Muguruza has a winning head-to-head record against only Ostapenko, whom she plays in her first match on Sunday. While this is Muguruza’s third straight time at Singapore, Ostapenko is making her debut.

The 20-year-old Latvian took the tennis world by a storm when she won the French Open title as an unseeded player. Ostapenko reached three finals in 2017 (Charleston, Roland Garros and Seoul) and won two titles.

Since the US Open, Ostapenko has a 11-2 record, claiming her first WTA title at Seoul and making the semi-finals in Wuhan and Beijing. Even though the World No 7 has a losing head-to-head against everyone else in the White Group, with no wins against Venus and Pliskova, she has the ability and talent to beat any player on her day.

Pliskova took over the World No 1 ranking in July this year but her 2017 season has been a tale of two very different halves. She won three titles (Brisbane, Doha and Eastbourne) in the first six months of the year, but her form took a massive dip during the Asian swing of the tour, with a 8-3 record after the US Open.

On the indoor hardcourts of Singapore, Pliskova could easily bounce back to sting a deep run at this tournament. She leads the tour in aces (423) and hardcourt wins (37). When the 6’1-tall Czech made her debut in 2016, she left with a 1-2 record. She will be aiming to at least reach the semis this year and plays Venus in her first match.

Former champion Venus last made the year-end WTA Finals in 2009. But after an astonishing year, where she made two Slam finals – Australian Open and Wimbledon – the American is back for her fifth appearance at this tournament, which she won in 2008.

At 37-years-old, Williams is the third oldest player to qualify for the year-end championships and is the oldest player in the draw by a decade (Wozniacki, at 27, is the second oldest). She will hoping to avenge her Wimbledon loss against Muguruza in Singapore and, if her form at the Slams is anything to go by, Venus could be creating more historical records by the end of next week.

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