Saturday, October 10, 2015

Limping toward Singapore

Sometimes I wonder why we have the WTA Finals at all. By this time, players are exhausted and injured, yet they must trudge on to the last big event of the year. Maybe I'm just too influenced by the moment, but 2015 seems worse than usual to me.

Four players have qualified in singles: Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Maria Sharapova, and Garbina Muguruza. Now subtract Williams because she has withdrawn from the event and ended her season.

Halep will be the top seed in Singapore; however, she's dealing with a foot injury and it's not certain that she'll be able to compete. And even if she's healthy, there's some doubt as to her ability to win the event. The Romanian star apparently didn't get the memo about pressure being a privilege, and she tends to perform stunningly well until she gets to the final segment of a big tournament. On the other hand, Singapore could serve as a turnaround for Halep's career. (I know--she's number 2 in the world! But her career still needs a turnaround--she's that good).

Sharapova has just returned to the court to practice after taking a few months off because of injuries; it's also fair to say that she won't be at her best in Singapore.

Muguruza, who has been out-shone by fellow star-in-the-making Belinda Bencic for much of this season, has suddenly gotten out of her slump--undoubtedly with the help of Sam Sumyk--and is about to play in her second final of the last two weeks. She lost the Wuhan final to Venus Williams, and will face Timea Bacsinszky (also in the middle of a mini-comeback) in the Beijing final.

The Spaniard, who has just entered the top 5, is kind of the wild card of wild cards, everywhere she goes. She could win Beijing, she could win the WTA Finals, she could not win either of them. My instinct, however, is that the round-robin format will agree with Muguruza. And with the two top seeds returning from injury recovery (if they are there at all), Mugurza is in a position to do extremely well.

As of now, the remaining players in the top 8 on the Road To Singapore are Petra Kvitova, Lucie Safarova, Angelique Kerber, Karolina Pliskova, and U.S. Open champion Flavia Pennetta. Kvitova won the event in 2011, when it was played in Istanbul. The Barking Czech lost only two sets in that tournament, and beat Victoria Azarenka in the final. Having won a big event in the past is always an advantage, but who knows which Petra will show up, and for how long?

Kvitova's friend and countrywoman, Safarova, was recently hospitalized for a bacterial infection. Assuming she has fully recovered and gets some practice in, Safarova could be threat in Singapore. But an infection that's serious enough to put someone in the hospital can be debilitating.

Kerber is having the season of her career, and though she sometimes loses when we think she "should" win, she's shown that she can collect trophies on all surfaces. Pliskova was in four big finals this year and lost all of them. Playing in Singapore, in a round robin format, might help her with confidence issues. As for Pennetta--assuming she even plays in the WTA Finals if she qualifies--she's the ultimate "nothing to lose" competitor. The Italian star is retiring at the end of the season, which could make her not as focused as needed in Singapore, or deadly. She'll be on a hard court, her favorite.

Next in line right now are Carla Suarez Navarro, Venus Williams and Aga Radwanska. Any of them could make it to Singapore, and of course, there are always alternates.

In the doubles race, six teams have qualified so far. The team of Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova (those two are ranked number 2 and 3 in the world) has not competed lately because of Safarova's illness. A face-off between them and the team of Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza would be tasty, but that may not happen.


Todd.Spiker said...

Maybe an even bigger "offense" is the (cough, cough) "Elite" Trophy for the players not quite enough to play in the WTA Finals. The whole notion of that event has always been a bad idea, especially for a tour that talks a good game about limiting the schedule (though we know the truth). Even Aga last week was complaining about the tour requiring players to play in that, really, meaningless (to be kind) event... and you can already sort of see the gears working in her head about how she can limit her participation (maybe like her wash-outs in the WTAF?) if she fails to qualify for Singapore and is made to go to Zhuhai.

Maybe the new CEO will change the rules that sometimes seem to seek to torture some of the players... but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Diane said...

The "not quite good enough" competitions, in any form, are ridiculous. I say "Go Aga!" What a bunch of nonsense.

Roi said...

On a totally unrelated note, Tamarine Tanasugarn just announced the opening of her tennis school for children. Could this be her retirement? I think it is, which really saddens me because I always was a huge fan of hers. Her last singles match was on april (only two wins this year, non consecutive) but made the Pattaya finals, losing a close match against the Chan sisters. She was such a class act with great touch, top 20 singles and doubles player (won a couple of titles with Sharapova of all people) and wins over Jankovic, Mauresmo, Safina, Zvonareva, Capriati, etc., throughout her 21 years as a pro.


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Diane said...

Oh, wow, I somehow thought she might have already retired. I've always really liked her, too, Roi, and have watched her play some great matches over the years. Her Wimbledon performances were often special. Good to hear she's opening a tennis school. She's had quite a career.