The Road to Singapore looks clearer now after Wednesday’s action in Moscow which saw two more places snapped up. Angelique Kerber and Flavia Pennetta have both been confirmed by the WTA as successfully qualifying for the WTA Finals. After Karolina Pliskova lost in straight sets to Anastasija Sevastova, this now means that the last place comes down to Lucie Safarova or Carla Suárez Navarro… if the Spaniard reaches the final then she will take the last spot otherwise it will be Lucie.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova defeated Safarova on Wednesday, 6-1 6-7(2) 6-3. It was an OK performance from Lucie but in the context of the injury and illness she has battled in the last month, it was a decent effort and a big improvement on her first outing in Linz last week. Pavlyuchenkova led, 6-1 5-2 30-30 and looked to be on her way to a relatively straightforward win. Once again, Lucie struggled on serve, winning just 9% of second serve points in the first set. She was moving OK, but looked a little slow and sluggish.
Pavs was unable to serve out the match at *5-3 in the second set with a couple of errors, but also some better points from Lucie. The Czech player was competing well and serving much better in the second set. Her only ace was timely, saving a match point down *5-6 *30-40 in the second set. The set went into the tiebreak where Pavlyuchenkova, who looked fatigued, made some woeful errors. Another double fault from Pavs helped Lucie, playing much more consistently, force a deciding set.
At the start of the third set it really didn’t look like Pavs would be able to carry on. She took a MTO for a rib injury which was clearly bothering her. However, she responded remarkably well after the MTO, looking reinvigorated, hitting cleanly and powering her way to a seventh consecutive win. Pavs won 13 points in a row on her serve. Lucie looked a little flat and while she improved her first serve percentage, the second serve was getting the treatment.
It will be such a shame for Lucie if she doesn’t qualify for Singapore because of the illness and skipping the Asian Swing. I have to admit that if she does qualify, I worry whether she will be able to come close to playing her best. The bacterial infection that hospitalised her obviously took a lot out of her and these things take a long time to get over. Still, if Safarova doesn’t make the top eight, she will still be going to Singapore as an alternate and competing in the doubles with Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Pavs goes through to play Margarita Gasparyan in the quarters, who had a superb win over Kristina Mladenovic, 6-2 6-3. I had a feeling about this one but didn’t go with my instinct! I think a healthy Pavs would win this match, but i’d go for Gasparyan. The 22-year-old, Gasparyan has played some good ball in Linz and Moscow, and will reach a new career high ranking next Monday.
The big match on Thursday will be first up wirth Suárez Navarro playing the 18-year-old wildcard, Daria Kastakina. The young Russian player had a superb win on Wednesday over last year’s finalist, Irina-Camelia Begu, 6-3 3-6 6-3. I watched some of Kasatkina’s first round match against Paula Kania; what was most impressive was how she showed experience well beyond her years. She was tactically sound at the end of that match with Kania contributing to her downfall with a flurry of errors. Kasatkina had an excellent run at the US Open as a lucky loser where she defeated Daria Gavrilova and Ana Konjuh to reach the third round. She followed that run up by winning a $50K ITF title in Saint Malo. Kasatkina is certainly going places but whether she has what it takes to end the Race to Singapore on Thursday is another question.
Suárez Navarro showed some nerves closing out Cibulkova and they will likely intensify over the next two potential matches. I’d have to go with the the Spaniard though in this quarter-final match who is playing much better after a disappointing run during the summer that saw her lose eight consecutive matches. I obviously want Lucie to reach Singapore but it’s hard to root against anyone, especially Carla, who is a nice person! We’ll just have to see what happens… one thing though is that if Suárez Navarro does win on Thursday it makes the draw ceremony for the WTA Finals, set to go ahead on Friday, very awkward. I suppose that if Suárez Navarro were to reach the semi-finals then her match could be first up in Moscow and they would be able to do the WTA Finals draw later on knowing the result.
However if Carla qualifies, she definitely won’t be there for the draw (would they be able to do the iconic photo of the eight players?) and will have scant time to prepare. A Premier tournament finishing the day before the WTA Finals is just…