WTA Tour Finals 2016: Singapore turns into a galaxy of stars as tennis' best aim to end the year on a high
All roads lead to Singapore for the WTA Tour Finals where the eight highest ranked singles and doubles players in the world will battle it out to finish the season on a high. The Finals is the most prestigious tournament on the calendar after the Grand Slams, and will be played in Singapore for the third year in a row.
Having arrived in Singapore to cover the Finals, I’ve been thoroughly awed by the scale and detail of the preparations for the event. While Svetlana Kuznetsova hasn’t yet arrived in the city, with her participation getting confirmed only yesterday, the rest of the players have been treated to a wide variety of cultural, glitzy festivities that are bound to make them want to return next year.
With World No. 2 Serena Williams pulling out, that leaves only three Grand Slam winners in the field – Angelique Kerber (Germany, World #1), Garbine Muguruza (Spain, World #6) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (Russia, World #9).
All eight players have won titles on the tour this year and have shown good form coming to the close of the season. Agnieszka Radwanska, (#2) is still looking for her first Major title, but will be confident about defending the title she won last year when she beat Petro Kvitova in a closely-fought final.
The players’ official draw took place on Friday evening at the Marina Bay Sands hotel’s ice skating ring, which was specially decked up for the purpose. The stars ditched their trainers and wore trendy dresses at the event that took place in front of a crowd that included dignitaries from the WTA, Singapore Tourism Board and other stakeholders. The players also took turns to answer questions from fans in and around the area who asked a bunch of questions ranging from how the players prepared for their matches, to how they like celebrating their victories.
Angelique Kerber of Germany is the favourite going into the event given the fabulous season she has had. Having started the season ranked 10th, she recorded her maiden Grand Slam win at the Australian Open in Melbourne before becoming a two-time Grand Slam winner with her win at the US Open in September.
The World #1 was in a boisterous mood ahead of the tournament. On being asked about her poor record in the Tour Finals, where she stands at 2 wins to 7 losses, she said, “I think it just can be better than the last few years. I never came out from the group and I never played the semis here. This is for sure my goal. I think I will try to take the experience from the last years and maybe take the positive things and try to do it now better.”
The press conference took place the very next day, where the players answered questions from the media about their expectations from the tournament and how they hoped to fare. The proceedings were rather smooth, and the only time a bit of tension arose in the room was when the players were questioned about the scheduling of the event.
#10 Johanna Konta of Britain was in Singapore in the lead-up to the event, without knowing whether she would make it to the final eight or not. With Serena Williams pulling out of the event, Kuznetsova just squeezed into the field for the WTA Finals with her win at the VTB Kremlin cup that ended on the 22nd of October. The players maintained that they felt sympathy for Konta, but it did leave the Brit in a bit of an awkward position.
Radwanska has been slotted in the White group of the draw. She was widely expected to kick on and win a Grand Slam after her win in Singapore last year, but endured another tough season where she made it to the semi-finals stage only once – at the Australian Open. She has been paired with #4 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, Gabrine Muguruza and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
The Pole spoke about the pressure of returning here as defending champion. “When you're Top 5, top 10, you pretty much defending every week more or less. So just trying not to really think about it and of course, just try to repeat what I did last year.”
The action gets underway on the 23rd of October, with Simona Halep taking on Madison Keys in the first half of Sunday evening. Angelique Kerber, who has a rather ordinary 2-7 win-loss record in the WTA Tour Finals, will face Dominika Cibulkova in the final match of the day.
The World No. 1 has been paired with #3 Simona Halep of Romania, #6 Madison Keys of USA (who will be making her debut at the finals and is also the youngest player on the field), and #7 Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia in the Red half of the draw.
The singles event will follow a round robin format where each player plays the other in their respective group once. The top two players in each group will advance to the semi-finals, where the winner of the first group will face the runner-up of the second.
India’s Sania Mirza will be seen in doubles action with Martina Hingis as the pair will look to defend the crown they won last year. While the doubles event does not get underway until Thursday, it will be fascinating to see how the two work together, having split up in August earlier this year.
The pair were immensely successful when they worked together, winning 3 Grand Slam titles and 11 titles in the 17 months they were together.