The WTA Finals Contenders—Part 1

The countdown to the WTA Finals begins with a look at the top four contenders for the title.

Serena Williams

Arguably the greatest of them all, World Number One and eighteen-time singles Grand Slam Champion Serena Williams heads to Singapore for the WTA Finals with a big question mark over her. It’s been a successful season for the American player, but is age finally catching her up? The hotly tipped title contender’s health has suffered intermittently with a virus in 2014 which has seen her withdraw mid-matches at early stages in tournaments. It has seen her recover sporadically to produce six WTA title wins but the lethargy and the dizziness has continued to return—most notably at Wimbledon and on the Asian swing of the tour—heading into the WTA Finals. However, we have learnt the hard way to underestimate a wounded Serena Williams and at the US Open, she galvanized her way to a record-equalling eighteenth Grand Slam title which has seen her start to transcend her sport in ways that no other tennis starlet has done.

Serena heads to Singapore as defending WTA Finals champion, but Williams has won the title four times. No other player can match the reigning US Open champion for brute power on the groundstrokes and on her serve. They are proven weapons which have been unleashed to keep her in tournaments and win titles. Serena Williams knows that such power can bulldoze all her challengers from the court—even the elite eight of which she is part—however with such knowledge comes pressure to do so and much criticism if not executing such a game. The American hits the tournament with a win-loss record greatly in her favour against all her rivals but this too can create anxiety and frustration if not firing on all cylinders.

All her rivals understand that Serena Williams comes into Singapore with a question mark over her fitness; but to keep her out on court and challenge that fitness is tough to do. Especially when the likes of Sharapova, Ivanovic, Kvitova and Bouchard all look to dominate their rivals and struggle playing a more tactically astute game. A lot of the time these four rivals, trying to play to their own strengths, have fed Serena’s consistency, level of play and forced the American to unleash her very best.

It could be that the more solid counter-punchers in the elite like Halep, Radwanska and Wozniacki could prove problematic and challenging to Serena Williams. However, will Serena allow these girls over the finish line? It’s tough to imagine that she will, especially if she surrenders a set to them.

It is likely that Serena Williams will prevail after having a few weeks of recovery and a small training block behind her—there is no way she will head to Singapore unprepared for all possibilities—and with the added issue of pride after three other players winning what she believes to be “her Grand Slams” this year, Serena will be looking to school her rivals once again in Singapore.

Maria Sharapova

The reigning French Open Champion, five time Grand Slam Champion and former World number one Maria Sharapova heads to Singapore a viable title contender and with a shot at wrestling the World Number one ranking from her arch-nemesis Serena Williams.

Sharapova heads into Singapore having found some form on the Asian swing and winning her fourth title of the season at Beijing. The Russian has made it to the finals of the WTA Finals on three occasions, lifting the trophy in 2004. However, despite having found form in her play, the French Open Champion has one major hurdle to jump: Serena Williams. The Russian has only two career wins vs the American and they were both in 2004. This is psychologically tough for Maria Sharapova, as players must go to tournaments believing they can win, the mental psyche at a Grand Slam that you may not meet your major rival is easier to promote than at the WTA Finals. Even though both will be drawn into different groups Sharapova will be well aware of Serena Williams’s presence in the tournament and how she must build on each match to get her into prime shape for a possible finals clash with the US Open Champion.

Maria heads into the WTA finals with a healthy win-loss record against the elite excluding Serena Williams. This will give her much confidence in the group stages and her losses to Ivanovic and Wozniacki in 2014 will fire her up should she face them in Singapore. Sharapova will be prepared to dig deep mentally, unleash the thunderous groundstrokes and punish on her serve.

The five time Grand Slam Champion has avoided all Autumn tournaments after the Asian swing to get in a solid training block heading into Singapore. On such form and injury free block of training, Sharapova should hit the final hard and be ready to produce her best. If Serena Williams has failed to make the final then the title will be Sharapova’s, but if the American is in the final Serena wont surrender her title.

Simona Halep

French Open finalist Simona Halep is a first time attendee at the WTA Finals. Her meteoric rise into the elite on a crest of a wave that has grown in momentum over the last eighteen months makes her formidable, confident and dangerous to all rivals. Halep’s game has started not only to win her titles, but has also seen her take elite scalps too. The Romanian heads into Singapore with career wins over  Ivanovic, Kvitova, Radwanska and Bouchard in 2014 and also having run Sharapova close in three sets on two occasions.

Halep’s formidable game relies heavily on her movement and being in the right place at the right time, which enables her to aggressively counterpunch the ball to open spaces or acute angles. Such an arsenal allows her to deal with power coming at her and deflect it with interest; a strength which will be tested and required on the Singapore indoor court.

The World Number three brings to the court a very intelligent tactical game that has been honed and primed in 2014, building on the six titles won in 2013. Although her rise has been meteoric, Halep is still very much an unknown quantity in the elite as her game is still improving; better serving and improved fitness. Her mental strength continues to prove that she can shake off losses and learn from them, as well as proving that she can fight it out within the elite.

With arguably a lesser amount of pressure than many of her rivals at the WTA Finals, this could be the blessing which could see her hit new heights with big wins over the players.

Petra Kvitova

The Wimbledon Champion and Former WTA Finals winner heads to Singapore a two-time Grand Slam Champion with confidence and form. Kvitova’s resurgence in 2014 and improved fitness has suddenly given the Czech World Number three a belief in her own game and the knowledge of the sheer devastation she can unleash off her racket.

Petra Kvitova knows that her win-loss record against her rivals at Singapore will count for nothing as she believes that she is a new machine in the game. It is this belief that has produced three titles on the tour in 2014 and made her a contender with experience.

Her power game, which saw her beat Venus Williams in the third round at Wimbledon in arguably the best match of the year, is based heavily on power, acute angles and running onto the ball. Her serve is improving and mind is getting stronger; she knows that her game causes problems for the elite and that it will challenge for the title. However, Petra Kvitova knows that to win the WTA finals she will have to produce the results against Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep—all of whom have caused her considerable problems in the past. Singapore is going to be battle of mind and focus for the Wimbledon Champion.

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