FINALLY… One day before the draw for the 2015 WTA Finals and we HAVE A CONFIRMED LINE-UP! The last place in Singapore was snapped up by Lucie Safarova after Carla Suárez Navarro lost in straight sets to Daria Kasatkina, 6-1 6-2, in the quarter-finals of Moscow. It sounds like Carla had an absolute mare. I’m chuffed for Lucie that she managed to qualify. It’s been a longggg race and i’m glad that it is over and we can concentrate on Singapore. I’ve really struggled to get into either Moscow or Luxembourg so i’ll be switching my attention to Singapore. The draw for the WTA Finals will take place at 6.30pm local time (11.30am UK time) with Simona Halep, Garbiñe Muguruza, Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber, Flavia Pennetta and Lucie Safarova being split between the two round robin groups. Let’s take a look at the high points and low points of the eight finalists…
1. Simona Halep
Titles: 3 (Shenzhen, Dubai and Indian Wells)
High moment: Halep’s best spell of the year came in the first three months of the year where she won all three of her titles and put together a 14-match winning streak which included titles in Dubai and Indian Wells, and a semi-final appearance in Miami. It also showed that she was capable of performing well in back-to-back weeks which was something that she struggled to do in 2014.
Low moment: Heavily tipped to have a great clay court season, Halep didn’t reach a final in her four clay court events in the Spring. A second round loss at the French Open was quickly followed by a first round loss at Wimbledon which marked her low point of 2015.
Best win: Halep’s quarter-final win over Victoria Azarenka at the US Open was a fabulous result and arguably, one of her best wins at a Grand Slam. Halep’s reaction told it all. It was a shame that she couldn’t back it up in the semi-finals, losing out to Flavia Pennetta.
Toughest loss: The losses at the middle two Slams were certainly tough but particularly the defeat to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni at her best Slam, the French Open. It was Halep’s second loss to Lucic-Baroni at a Slam having lost in the third round of the US Open to the Croatian player in 2014.
WTA Finals record: Halep played Singapore in 2014, her first appearance in the WTA Finals, and reached the final. The courts really suited her game where she picked up wins over Serena Williams, Eugenie Bouchard and Agnieszka Radwanska.
Recent form: While Halep qualifies top of the pack (bar Serena), there have been many ups and downs during the year. It’s fair to say that Halep was struggling post-US Open, suffering losses to Denisa Allertova (Guangzhou) and Johanna Konta (Wuhan) before retiring during her first round match in Beijing with an achilles injury. The loss to Konta from 5-1 up in the third set was a painful loss. Halep’s scheduling in Asia was baffling considering she had already qualified for Singapore, but she’s had a few weeks off to hopefully prepare in the best possible way.
2. Garbiñe Muguruza
Titles: 1 (Beijing)
High moment: Muguruza’s highlight of 2015 was reaching her first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon. The Spaniard played some of her best tennis at the first three Grand Slams and also won her biggest title in Beijing. This was a particularly noteworthy win as she managed to back up a final appearance in Wuhan the week before and showed her strength and resolve, fighting through matches whilst not at her physical peak.
Low moment: The time after Wimbledon was certainly a low point for Muguruza, going winless between Wimbledon and the US Open and splitting with her long term coach, Alejo Mancisidor. Muguruza also fell away after a promising start to the year and was largely mediocre between Doha and the French Open, posting a 5-6 W-L record.
Best win: Muguruza’s run to the Wimbledon final was sensational, taking out Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki, Timea Bacsinszky and Agnieszka Radwanska. To find a consistency to beat those four players in a row was a magnificent effort. For the best win, it would have to be the victory over a red-hot Kerber in a pulsating third round match.
Toughest loss(es): One doesn’t stand out particularly although losses to Sara Errani in Miami and Svetlana Kuznetsova in Madrid were both rough. The defeats to Lesia Tsurenko and Yaroslava Shvedova in Toronto and Cincy respectively were also poor but came very soon after a career-changing result at Wimbledon.
WTA Finals record: This will be Muguruza’s first appearance in the WTA Finals.
Recent form: Of the top eight, Muguruza comes in as the form player after reaching the final of Wuhan and winning Beijing. She did seem hampered slightly by an ankle injury picked up in her semi-final match against Angelique Kerber in Wuhan. However, she was able to come through the draw in Beijing and made the smart decision to skip Hong Kong, allowing her body two weeks of rest from competition.
3. Maria Sharapova
Titles: 2 (Brisbane and Rome)
High moment: Sharapova’s start to the year was very impressive; winning her first title of 2015 in Brisbane and then reaching the final of the Australian Open. In Melbourne. Sharapova saved match points in her second round match against Alexandra Panova and then strolled from then on up to the final where she gave it a real good go against an irresistable, Serena Williams.
Low moment: It’s been sad times for Sharapova and her fans since Wimbledon with a leg injury derailing her summer and fall season. The fact that Sharapova was the second player to qualify highlights how strong her results were during the first half of 2015.
Best win(s): It’s hard to pick out a best win with Sharapova scoring just three top ten wins and missing so much of the year. In terms of comprehensive nature, the victories over Eugenie Bouchard and Ekaterina Makarova at the Australian Open were both pretty ruthless. In terms of gritting out a win, the final against Ivanovic in Brisbane stands out. Two straight set victories over Victoria Azarenka were both decent considering how well the Belarusian has played Sharapova in the past.
Toughest loss: The semi-final loss to Serena Williams, 6-2 6-4, at Wimbledon was a tough one to watch. Despite doing extremely well to reach the last four at Wimbledon, it was a poor performance from Sharapova, who looked out of ideas and almost accepting of the outcome.
WTA Finals record: This will be Sharapova’s eight appearance in the WTA Finals and she hasn’t won it since her very first showing back in 2004 where she beat none other than Serena in the final. Sharapova went out in the Round Robin stage of Singapore last year, losing an epic to Caroline Wozniacki and succumbing in straight sets to Petra Kvitova.
Recent form: Sharapova has played just one match since Wimbledon in Wuhan where she retired in the third set of her match against Barbora Strycova with a wrist injury. It sounded more precautionary than anything serious but uncertainty still looms over the Russian player…
4. Petra Kvitova
Titles: 3 (Sydney, Madrid and New Haven)
High moment: Once again, Kvitova has demonstrated this incredible ability of peaking from absolutely nowhere; she did this twice in 2015, winning Madrid in only her second tournament after spending a spell on the sidelines due to exhaustion and then in New Haven, after she had revealed that she had been diagnosed with Mononucleosis. It’s been a weird year for Petra but the fact she has managed to finish this year in the top five is an admirable achievement.
Low moment: Kvitova’s low moments have stemmed around the tiredness/mononucleosis that plagued her year. Falling in the third round of Wimbledon to Jelena Jankovic was a real bummer.
Best win: Kvitova was the first player in 2015 to inflict a defeat on the world number one, Serena Williams. While Serena was below her best, it was a stunning performance from Kvitova, winning 6-2 6-3, and earning her first ever win over the world number one. Slightly off-topic but i’d love to see a a Petra-Serena match-up on grass with both playing well… PLEASE!
Toughest loss: Without doubt, the loss to Jankovic at Wimbledon. Kvitova was in control, up a set and a break, and then when it went deep in the third set, had an opening before wrongly opting to challenge a shot from Jankovic that had landed plum on the baseline… The match unravelled from then on. With respect, it was a cracking performance from Jankovic.
WTA Finals record: This is Kvitova’s fifth consecutive appearance in the WTA Finals and like Sharapova, she has won it once in her first ever appearance. Kvitova scored a big win over Sharapova in Singapore last year but her game didn’t translate that well onto the slow courts of Singapore, losing in straight sets to Agnieszka Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki.
Recent form: Kvitova put together decent runs in New Haven and New York but won just one match in the Asian Swing. She showed her battling qualities to beat Daria Gavrilova who had served for the match in their three set encounter in Wuhan. Kvitova lost a first ever match to Sara Errani in Beijing in a gruelling first rounder that was pretty painful to watch. Kvitova implied in Asia that the effects of Mononucleosis are still there but she is on the mend.
5. Agnieszka Radwanska
Titles: 2 (Tokyo and Tianjin)
High moment: Radwanska reignited her year with a superb set of tournaments on the grass, reaching the semi-finals of Nottingham, the final of Eastbourne and the semi-finals of Wimbledon. Asia has also been a high point for Radwanska, especially Tokyo, where she was at her crafty and wily best.
Low moment: The first half of 2015 was a miserable affair for Radwanska who just couldn’t get going at all. She had begun the year with Martina Navratilova in her team, which doesn’t feel like this year!
Best win: I’d go for Radwanska’s 6-2 6-2 dismantling of Belinda Bencic in the Tokyo final. It was a superb performance, particularly having been on the end of a third set bagel when the pair had first played in the Eastbourne final.
Toughest loss: There were a number of tough losses in the first half of the year but the first round defeat to Annika Beck at the French Open was a real shocker. Even in Radwanska’s form and with respect to Beck who played a great match, it’s the type of match you would never normally expect Radwanska to lose.
WTA Finals record: Since 2008, Radwanska has missed just one WTA Finals. Her best results have included two semi-final performances including last year in Singapore where she bagged a straight sets win over Kvitova.
Recent form: Of the eight, Radwanska is definitely one of the in-form players. While a loss to a fatigued Garbiñe Muguruza in Beijing was one that slipped away, Radwanska was ruthless in her title runs in Tokyo and Tianjin, both secured without dropping a set. Radwanska pulled out of Moscow, citing a shoulder injury, but a week’s rest will have no doubt done her good.
6. Angelique Kerber
Titles: 4 (Charleston, Stuttgart, Birmingham and Stanford)
High moment: Winning four Premier titles between April and August was a stunning achievement for Kerber, particularly as she had gone 0-4 in Premier finals in 2014. Furthermore, all four titles came on different surfaces, highlighting Kerber’s versatility.
Low moment: It’s easy to forget that Kerber started the year in dreadful form and was at her lowest ebb since her breakthrough into the top ten back in 2012. Kerber went 2-6 between the Australian Open and Miami before she turned it around in Charleston. The Grand Slams were a disappointment this year with Kerber failing to make it past the second week in any of the four Slams.
Best win: The victory over Maria Sharapova in front of her home crowd in Stuttgart was a wonderful moment. Kerber produced some inspired tennis to prevail in their second round clash, 2-6 7-5 6-1… Peak Kerbs is awesome. Also, a shout-out to the four Premier titles where Kerber demonstrated her mental toughness to win all four in three tight sets (with scores in the third set of 7-5, 7-5, 7-6 and 6-4).
Toughest loss(es): There’s been a quite a few because Kerber has played some superb tennis in the process; the third round losses at the Grand Slams, twice to Garbiñe Muguruza (French Open and Wimbledon) and then against Victoria Azarenka (US Open). The loss at Wimbledon to Muguruza was gutting and resonated with me for quite sometime. While Muguruza fully deserved the win, I think if Kerber had got through that match then she would have reached the final.
WTA Finals record: In her two previous appearances, Kerber has failed to get out of the Round Robin stage. Kerber only has one WTA Finals win to her name, beating Agnieszka Radwanska in Istanbul in 2013.
Recent form: Kerber’s been solid through the Asian Swing, reaching the quarter-finals in Tokyo and Beijing, semi-finals in Wuhan, and the final in Hong Kong. She’s been missing that spark that she had during the middle of the year, but her B game is still very accomplished. A back injury hindered her in the final of Hong Kong, which she lost to Jelena Jankovic in three sets, 6-1 in the third set. Kerber has played a lot of tennis this year and thankfully, she pulled out of Moscow. Still, i’m a little concerned whether a week is long enough to restore energy but we shall see…
7. Flavia Pennetta
Titles: 1 (US Open)
High moment: Hmmmm let me have a think ;-). Pennetta’s lone title in 2015, the US Open, was the pinnacle of her year and whole career. An opportunity opened up in the draw but Pennetta still had to earn it, defeating two top five players in Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep.
Low moment: There hasn’t been a defined low moment with decent results scattered through the year. Pennetta did go winless in Australia and through the grass court season.
Best win: The two top five wins at the US Open were both great, particularly beating Halep in the semi-finals. Pennetta had also enjoyed wins over Maria Sharapova (Indian Wells), Victoria Azarenka (Miami) and Angelique Kerber (Dubai).
Toughest loss: In a prime opportunity for both, Pennetta lost an enthralling quarter-final in Indian Wells to Sabine Lisicki, 6-4 6-7(3) 7-6(4), having been up three match points.
WTA Finals record: This will be Pennetta’s first appearance in the WTA Finals.
Recent form: Pennetta has played two tournaments since winning the US Open, reaching the third round of Beijing and losing her opener in Tianjin to Lyudmyla Kichenok. Christopher Clarey revealed on Twitter that this WILL be Pennetta’s last tournament. She has a favourable head-to-head against three of the top eight and I think she could be the surprise package. It’s impossible to gauge where her mindset will be though…
8. Lucie Safarova
Titles: 1 (Doha)
High moment: Without doubt, the French Open. Lucie reached the singles final without dropping a set and also won the doubles tournament with Bethanie Mattek-Sands. The title run in Doha was also special where she went on an absolute tear, winning her last three matches for the loss of just 15 games to claim her biggest career title to date.
Low moment: There’s been a couple low points dotted through the year; most recently, the abdominal tear that contributed to a first round loss to Lesia Tsurenko at the US Open which was swiftly followed by a nasty bacterial infection that forced her to withdraw from Asia. The Indian Wells-Miami double was also disappointing with so many points up for grabs.
Best win(s): The victories over Maria Sharapova and Garbiñe Muguruza at the French Open were both monumental wins on the biggest stage. Also a shout-out to the come-from-behind wins at Wimbledon against Alison Riske and Sloane Stephens. Lucie didn’t play well but found a way to win, a character trait befitting of her newly established top ten ranking.
Toughest loss: The first round loss to Yaroslava Shvedova at the Australian Open, 8-6 in the third set, was a real heartbreaker. I still remember slumping in my chair at work whilst following on live scores.
WTA Finals record: This will be Safarova’s first appearance in the WTA Finals.
Recent form: Of the eight players, Lucie will be the underdog in Singapore. The Czech player is currently on a four match losing streak and is still coming back from the bacterial infection. She improved significantly from Linz to Moscow and I’d expect Lucie to keep improving match-by-match. Playing doubles may actually help her to find her range, particularly on the serve… the question is whether she can pick up the pace fast enough to be in contention! I hope so 😉