Singapore diaries: WTA Finals 2016 and beyond
As my flight landed at the Changi Airport at 6 am on Friday morning, I couldn’t have ever quite envisaged what I was in for. Thanks to the Singapore Tourism Board, the coming week would be a delight that would thrill all my senses as I had arrived in Singapore to cover the build-up to the US $7 Million dollar WTA Finals in Singapore.
After the driver promptly picked me up, I was whisked away to a local neighbourhood stall to enjoy a local favourite for breakfast – prata (quite like the paratha in India) with dal and fish curry. Having eaten my dinner only a couple of hours earlier, I was full to the brim and was only more than glad when the guide took me around the various beautifully maintained gardens in the heart of the city.
After completing lunch (yes, more food) at Halia, a cute cafe tucked away in a corner in the botanical garden, I checked into my hotel to rest and get ready for the WTA Finals draw later in the evening. Singapore was being treated to the WTA Finals for the third year running, with defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska and 2-time Grand Slam winner in 2016 Angelique Kerber proving to be the headlining acts.
The official draw
The draw would divide the top 8 ranked players into two groups – red and blue. The gala affair took place at the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel. The skating ring in the commercial part of the hotel was converted to a makeshift stage for the draw, and, with all the works, was made to look very grand. The location even allowed for fans, who were gathered in the hotel to line up on the floors above the skating ring to interact with the players.
While the players would move on to have dinner with a select bunch of invitees, I made myself to the 9th edition of the Singapore Wine Fiesta. The Wine Fiesta featured wine connoisseurs from around the world display their best and finest wines, with people crowding in to have a taste of the varied variety.
The fiesta was organized close to ‘One Fullerton’ which offers a panoramic view of the city’s sights at night. My eyes shut the moment I hit the bed, the next day would be a big one, as the players were to meet the media.
Media all access day
To work off all the food I had eaten the previous day, I made the wise choice of waking up early for a swim, only to be disappointed by the rains outside. (a mistake I would make in the days to come as it rained every morning) I did find comfort in the breakfast at my hotel as I grabbed a quick bite before heading back to the Marina Bay Sands for the all access day for the media.
I had the opportunity to interact with all the players as they took turns to answer questions one day prior to the event. Having picked the players’ brains over strategies and expectations for the week-long tournament, there was time for the media to network at the bay area of the hotel. The location offered another stunning view, a perfect contrast to the previous night, as this time, during the day, you were right opposite the ‘One Fullerton’ area and got another view of Singapore’s skyline.
We made our way for an early dinner to the newly-opened Montreux Jazz Cafe, a beautiful resto bar based on the Montreux Jazz Festival that takes place in Switzerland every year. The cafe is only the sixth of its kind in the world – after 3 in Switzerland and one each in Paris and Abu Dhabi. The food was sumptuous and we geared up to be thrilled by a Halloween night at the Universal Studios.
Having been warned aplenty about how terrifying the night can get, it turned to be a slight disappointment, as crowds thronged in and the waiting time in queues extended over 2 hours. On an ideal day, I would have waited in the lines, with the crowd, but rest was more important, as the tournament was due to kick off the very next day.
WTA Finals, day 1
We arrived at the Singapore Sports Hub hours prior to the start of the event to get a look-and-feel of the place, before the crowds come in. Preparations were underway and an expectant buzz in the air with the sounds of the organizers scampering around in the background.
We were taken on a guided tour of the hospitality boxes and media center. The hospitality boxes were purpose-built and immaculately constructed while the media center saw journalists busy in action as they were readying themselves for the week to come.
Having settled into our seats for the opening ceremony, I was thrilled to see Shivani Amineni finishing as runner-up in the U-16 category of the WTA Future Stars in the build-up to the main event. The opening ceremony in itself was an audio-visual treat and helped to raise the excitement in the crowd prior to the tennis action.
Madison Keys of USA, the youngest player in the draw at 21 was set to take on World No. 4 Simona Halep in the first match of the tournament. The crowd favoured the Romanian Halep, who didn’t disappoint with a flawless performance, brushing aside the American who was making her debut in straight sets.
Having paid big money to watch high-quality tennis, there were murmurs of disappointment as Keys’ performance was littered with unforced errors and prevented a great flow in the contest.