The identity of seed number eight is finally confirmed and we have a match-up… the first of the matches from the white group on Monday will see the WTA Finals defending champion, Agnieszka Radwanska take on the late arriving, Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Radwanska qualified for her eighth WTA Finals with another excellent year on the WTA tour. It started strong for the Pole as she reached the semi-finals at her first four tournaments including a joint best performance with semi-finals at the Australian Open and an 18th career title in Shenzhen. The clay season, where Radwanska has been unable to harness her best form, didn’t keep up the impressive start although she did manage to reach the second week of the French Open for the first time since 2013. However, it could have been even better if it hadn’t been for a damp and dreary day in Paris where she let the conditions get to her as Tsvetana Pironkova battled back to win their fourth round encounter from a set and a break down.
Radwanska skipped Rome and went all in for the grass court season. Unfortunately it pay dividends as Dominika Cibulkova stood in the way in both Eastbourne and Wimbledon – reaching the second week of SW19 is always an achievement but for Radwanska, she expected so much more. Just when the year looked to be careering off track during the summer hard court season and the Asian swing, Radwanska brought it back – titles number 19 and 20 came in New Haven and Beijing, the latter one of the biggest titles of her career.
Kuznetsova qualified for Singapore at the last hour… she had to win Moscow to knock Johanna Konta out of eighth place in the race and she did just that! This means that Kuznetsova returns to the WTA Finals for the first time since 2009 when it used to be called something different – the Tour Championships. It’s been a remarkable year for the Russian player who has rolled back the years with a flourishing confidence. The season got off to a great start down under where she won the title in Sydney. There’s a moment when Kuznetsova can just seemingly flick a switch and play some absolutely awesome tennis. After beating Simona Halep, she produced one of the most complete performances of the year to overwhelm Monica Puig in the final for the loss of just two games.
Kuznetsova burst into life again in Miami where she beat Serena Williams en route to the final. Where Kuznetsova has faded in recent years, the clay court season has always remained strong. Once again she performed well on the red stuff with a quarter-final in Rome and a second week showing in Paris, losing out to the eventual champion, Garbiñe Muguruza in the fourth round. Kuznetsova’s chances for Singapore took a blow with a second round loss to Caroline Wozniacki at the US Open but she came back fighting with a brilliant post-US Open spell – semi-finals in Wuhan and Tianjin, combined with a magnificent title defence in Moscow was enough to seal Kuznetsova’s place in the final eight.
Head-to-head record: Kuznetsova leads Radwanska, 12-4 in their head-to-head with eight wins in their last nine encounters. Radwanska’s only win during that time was in Madrid in 2014 where she saved match points to win a nailbiter, 6-3 4-6 7-6(6). In their most recent match in Wuhan, Radwanska failed to serve out the match and missed one match point with Kuznetsova prevailing, 1-6 7-6(9) 6-4.
Interesting stat about Radwanska: Radwanska is currently at 51 for match wins for 2016, the same as 2015, but she has a much better win percentage. Since securing back-to-back top 10 wins at Singapore last year, Radwanska has won just two of her six top ten clashes in 2016.
Interesting stat about Kuznetsova: Kuznetsova has won 43 matches in 2016, her best tally since 2009. She’s also won a match at every tournament she has played since Eastbourne. I keep going on about it but Kuznetsova had previously been very vulnerable in early rounds.
Final thoughts: The head-to-head makes this a very intriguing match because Kuznetsova has dominated Radwanska in the past. However, preparations for this event have been less than ideal and while she did a sterling job to actually qualify for Singapore, Kuznetsova is bound to be both tired physically and mentally, and still adjusting to the jetlag.
Radwanska put aside the disappointment of the loss to Kuznetsova in Wuhan with a title in Beijing and also, it’s worth noting that she was just one point away from the win in Wuhan. This situation is giving me vibes of when Radwanska played Caroline Wozniacki in back-to-back weeks. She lost a heartbreaker in Tokyo but rebounded strongly to win in both Wuhan and Beijing. Radwanska knows the Singapore court well and she was the first of the finalists to arrive so should be acclimatised. Kuznetsova faces an uphill battle to be ready for this first clash…