No Favorites But Plenty Of Star Power On Display At WTA Finals

SHENZHEN, October 26, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty headlines the Shiseido WTA Finals, which arrives for the first time in Shenzhen, a modern metropolis in southeastern China. The reigning French Open champion and No. 1 seed tops the Red Group and opens round-robin play against seventh seed Belinda Bencic on Sunday afternoon.

During an All-Access hour on the eve of the WTA Finals, Barty said she didn’t consider herself – or any of the other seven competitors in the star-studded field – to be a favorite to win.

“In my opinion, I don’t think there ever is a favorite,” said Barty, who a year ago won the WTA Elite Trophy event in Zhuhai that served as a springboard to greater things for the Aussie in 2019. “I think everyone is deserving to win that’s in the draw. Everyone has earned their place here and has the right to try to do the best they can to try and win.”

Drawn with Barty in the Red Group are current Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, who is seeded third; former two-time Wimbledon winner and sixth seed Petra Kvitova, who at age 29 is the oldest competitor; and Bencic, who qualified for the WTA Finals by winning the Kremlin Cup two weeks ago in Moscow.

Leading the Purple Group is World No. 2 and second seed Karolina Pliskova, who lifted trophies this year in Brisbane, Rome, Eastbourne, and Zhengzhou; US Open champion and fourth seed Bianca Andreescu, and defending champion Elina Svitolina, who is seeded eighth.

Between Sunday and Friday, as each group alternates through round-robin play, don’t expect to see any dull matches. Instead, the WTA Finals provide an opportunity for new rivalries to form among some of its younger stars, including Barty, Osaka and Andreescu. Sunday’s order of play includes Osaka and Kvitova in a rematch of this year’s Australian Open final, and on Monday, it’s Halep versus Andreescu. That’s the current Wimbledon champion facing the recent US Open winner. Anything can happen this week – and likely will.

“On any given day, anyone can be beaten. That’s the beauty of sport, there are no certainties,” said Barty, who comes into Shenzhen with a 52-11 win-loss record, while her first-day opponent, Bencic, is 48-20. “There’s always an opportunity for someone to try and bring their best.”

Halep has reunited with Darren Cahill, who coached the Romanian star when she won the 2018 French Open. She told media about Andreescu:

“It’s amazing what she has done. To win a Grand Slam at 19, play few tournaments and win them, it’s a great, great job. I just want to tell her that she deserved because she played really well these tournaments.

“I’m excited also to face her. It’s going to be a big challenge for me because this year was up and down a lot. I just have a very big up during the Wimbledon, and the rest was not that great. I’m not thinking about winning or losing here. I just want to be able to play the matches.”

Meanwhile, Pliskova, who begins her title quest against Svitolina on Monday, is appearing for the fourth straight year in the WTA Finals. She believes the elite tournament is a little different compared to other tournaments. “You have to get used to it,” she said. “It’s different format. You play more matches. If you lose, you can still play. This is just something what we are not really used to during the year.

“But anyway, it’s like last big tournament. Everybody is following it. I think you can be little more nervous than maybe during the year, of course maybe little more tired. It depends what is your feeling. … It can be some difference, I think, for the players which never played.”

The week-long WTA Finals taking place at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre showcases both the eight best women’s singles players and doubles teams in the world. It is the most lucrative event in tennis history – men’s or women’s – with total prize money of $14 million U.S. dollars (£10.75 million, 12.63 million euros). If next Sunday’s champion goes undefeated, she will pocket $4.725 million U.S. dollars.

According to WTA chief executive officer Steve Simon, in an interview with The Guardian’s Tumaini Carayol, “There was a true commitment here, trying to do something about ‘walking the walk’ when it comes to women’s empowerment. It made a huge impression on us when we saw someone who didn’t just talk the talk,” he said.

US Open champions top doubles draw

US Open champions Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka are the top seeds in the WTA Finals doubles draw. They headline the Red Group along with French Open winners Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic, seeded third. Also in the Red Group are No. 5 seeds Latisha Chan and her sister Chan Hao-Ching, and No. 8 seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Demi Schuurs.

The Purple Group features No. 2 seeds Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova, who captured this year’s Wimbledon title, along with No. 4 seeds Gabriela Dabrowski and Xu Yifan, No. 6 seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, and No. 7 seeds Samantha Stosur and Zhang Shuai, who won the Australian Open title.

Sunday’s order of play

Centre Court / Not before 4:30 p.m.

Red Group / singles
No. 3 Naomi Osaka vs. No. 6 Petra Kvitova
No. 1 Ashleigh Barty vs. No. 7 Belinda Bencic

Purple Group / doubles
No. 2 Hsieh Su-Wei/Barbora Strycova vs. No. 7 Samantha Stosur/Zhang Shuai
No. 4 Gabriela Dabrowski/Xu Yifan vs. No. 6 Barbora Krejcikova/Katerina Siniakova