We’re nearing the end of the 2017 season with the WTA Finals in Singapore fast approaching – the draw will be unveiled this Friday and the tournament begins with round robin action on Sunday. As the line-up is all set (unlike this time last year!), I have profiled the eight finalists and their 2017 seasons in this post. Let’s take a look at this year’s finalists…
1. Simona Halep
2017 Titles: 1 (Madrid)
2017 W-L record: 46-15
2017 Record vs. Top 10 players: 5-4
2017 Record vs. Singapore Top 8: 4-6
Career Record vs. Singapore Top 8: 15-14
2017 Record at the Slams: R1—F—QF—R1
WTA Finals Record: 5-6
High moment: After reaching the final of Beijing, Halep ascended to world number one in the rankings for the first time in her career. The outpouring of emotion on court showed how much this meant to her, surely heightened by her near-misses during the year when she was just one match away. The week in Beijing included what was arguably her best win of the year, breaking her duck against Maria Sharapova where she snapped a seven match losing streak with a superb 6-2 6-2 victory. Not only did she beat Sharapova, Halep also managed to overturn recent losses to Daria Kasatkina and Jelena Ostapenko in the following two rounds.
Low moment: As impressive as Halep’s year has been, there have been some really tough moments along the way. Reaching the French Open final having been dogged by an ankle injury was a feat in itself (and one that is frequently overlooked), yet she was within touching distance of securing a maiden Slam. From a set and a break up, Halep would eventually lose out to Jelena Ostapenko.
Final Thoughts: It’s easy to forget that Halep was injured at the start of the season and didn’t really seem herself on court until Miami. The fact that she has managed to end the season at number 1 in the Race to Singapore is staggering, and a marker of her supreme consistency that saw her reach at least the quarter-finals at ten tournaments in a row between Miami and Cincinnati. The lows have been super low, yet her hard work and resilience prevailed in Beijing where a much improved serve was a key factor in her successful week.
2. Garbiñe Muguruza
2017 Titles: 2 (Wimbledon and Cincinnati)
2017 W-L record: 46-19
2017 Record vs. Top 10 players: 7-5
2017 Record vs. Singapore Top 8: 6-8
Career Record vs. Singapore Top 8: 17-18
2017 Record at the Slams: QF—R4—W—R4
WTA Finals Record: 4-3
High moment: Muguruza won her second Slam at Wimbledon, dropping her lone set in one of the matches of the tournament against Angelique Kerber. Muguruza played a near-perfect two weeks with aggressive baseline hitting, an intent to come forward and mega clutchness on the key points. The way she backed up her Wimbledon run through the US summer hard court season, including a title in Cincy, was equally impressive.
Low moment: One-sided losses at the hands of Timea Bacsinszky in Madrid (1-6 3-6) and Barbora Strycova (1-6 0-6) in Eastbourne were disappointing, yet the Spaniard responded very positively in her next tournaments – she won Wimbledon after Eastbourne! A stat that Muguruza won’t want to repeat is that she retired from six matches during 2017 – five of the six retirements came during the first six months of the year.
Final Thoughts: Up to Roland Garros it had been an odd year for Muguruza. She was becoming more and more passive, yet had built together a rather consistent season, in between the retirements, and come out the victor in numerous three setters. Everything seemed to snap into place though after Roland Garros where a mentally draining fourth round loss to Kristina Mladenovic saw her emotions come to the surface in her press conference. Since Wimbledon, Muguruza has reaped the benefits of being more positive in her tactics. The sheer volume of matches she has played since Wimbledon seemed to take its toll in Asia, but two and a half week off before Singapore will hopefully have been long enough to heal her injuries.
3. Karolina Pliskova
2017 Titles: 3 (Brisbane, Doha & Eastbourne)
2017 W-L record: 51-16
2017 Record vs. Top 10 players: 6-4
2017 Record vs. Singapore Top 8: 9-5
Career Record vs. Singapore Top 8: 21-16
2017 Record at the Slams: QF—SF—R2—QF
WTA Finals Record: 1-2
High moment: Considering her struggles and obvious lack of belief on clay, a semi-final appearance at Roland Garros was a superb achievement for Pliskova. In general, her performance at the Slams has been much improved. Before the 2016 US Open, Pliskova had never made it past the third round of a Slam – now she has achieved that feat at four of the last five Slams. Consistency has definitely been the highlight of Pliskova’s 2017 season.
Low moment: A stunning run to the title in Eastbourne had seen Pliskova lauded as one of the favourites heading into Wimbledon. However, it proved to be her earliest exit at a Slam in 2017. Magdalena Rybarikova, who had won 13 matches on grass, was always going to be a tough second round draw and as well as the Slovak player did play, Pliskova lost her way at the end of the second set, eventually losing out in three high-quality sets.
Final Thoughts: The general theme through much of the year has been that Pliskova has never really played her best tennis! Arguably the highest level she produced was in the first week of the year in Brisbane. On the whole, Pliskova has enjoyed a super consistent year and never lost more than two matches in a row – this happened only once during the clay court season, her least favoured surface. Pliskova won a lot of matches with her serve in the clutch moments, but did come up short in a handful of key matches at the big events. Perhaps the greatest uncertainty for Pliskova is right now having recently split with coach, David Kotyza and looked surprisingly lacklustre on serve in a recent loss to Sorana Cirstea in Beijing.
4. Elina Svitolina
2017 Titles: 5 (Taipei City, Dubai, Istanbul, Rome & Toronto)
2017 W-L record: 52-12
2017 Record vs. Top 10 players: 10-3
2017 Record vs. Singapore Top 8: 8-5
Career Record vs. Singapore Top 8: 12-14
2017 Record at the Slams: R3—QF—R4—R4
WTA Finals Record: N/A
High moment: Svitolina was the Premier Five queen, winning three of the five events in this tournament classification for 2017. The highlight was definitely Toronto where she beat Daria Kasatkina, Venus Williams, Garbiñe Muguruza, Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki – Svitolina dropped just one set in a run that saw her bag four consecutive top ten wins.
Low moment: While she generally got deeper at the Slams than in previous years, Svitolina failed to capitalise on some big opportunities. Leading 6-3 5-1 and missing one match point against Simona Halep in the quarter-finals of Roland Garros, Svitolina endured her most painful loss.
Final Thoughts: Svitolina has made huge strides forward in 2017 and is arguably the most improved of the top eight in terms of game style and trying to become more aggressive. Svitolina’s resilience is also a huge asset to her game with her ability to reset after disappointment. While still struggling to translate her good form on the WTA tour into the Slams, Svitolina is definitely heading in the right direction. Perhaps surprisingly, the Ukrainian player has the best record of the top eight against top ten opposition in 2017.
5. Caroline Wozniacki
2017 Titles: 1 (Tokyo)
2017 W-L record: 56-20
2017 Record vs. Top 10 players: 10-5
2017 Record vs. Singapore Top 8: 5-8
Career Record vs. Singapore Top 8: 13-22
2017 Record at the Slams: R3—QF—R4—R2
WTA Finals Record: 8-8
High moment: Wozniacki broke her duck in finals in 2017 in Tokyo with a tremendous run – after saving match points to beat Dominika Cibulkova in the quarter-finals, the Dane tore through the final two rounds including a 6-2 6-0 thrashing of then world number one, Garbiñe Muguruza.
Low moment: Wozniacki had a disappointing year at the Slams where once again, she was dispatched by big hitters at all four Slams. While the Dane has continued to take more risks on court and be more aggressive, she is prone to going into her shell and being hit off court against power players at the Slams.
Final Thoughts: Wozniacki will end the season with her highest number of match wins since 2011. She is arguably playing her best tennis post-US Open – her forehand and serve are both becoming real weapons. While not at the Slam level, Singapore is the next best thing and another opportunity to prove herself against the big hitters. An elbow injury picked up in Hong Kong is a slight concern heading into the WTA Finals. In her only previous showing in Singapore, Wozniacki won all three of her Round Robin matches, only to be denied by Serena Williams in a scintillating semi-final encounter.
6. Venus Williams
2017 Titles: 0
2017 W-L record: 35-12
2017 Record vs. Top 10 players: 4-3
2017 Record vs. Singapore Top 8: 2-2
Career Record vs. Singapore Top 8: 17-6
2017 Record at the Slams: F—QF—F—SF
WTA Finals Record: 11-5
High moment: Williams has owned it at the Slams in 2017 with the most consistent record of any WTA player this year. The American player reached the finals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and has made the second week at her last seven consecutive Slams. The sheer joy from Venus after her semi-final win at the Australian Open over CoCo Vandeweghe was infectious.
Low moment: Away from the Slams, Williams hasn’t been as successful with few highlights on the WTA tour since Miami – Williams has compiled a 15-8 W-L record on the WTA tour, compared to 20-4 at the Slams.
Final Thoughts: Qualifying for Singapore is one hell of an achievement by Venus Williams and a marker of how well she has performed at the Slams, managing to elevate her game for when it really counts. Her serve, which can fluctuate in terms of its speed, has been consistently strong in 2017. Playing on the WTA tour, where you have often have to play on back-to-back days, has become more of a challenge for Williams. Days off in between round robin matches in Singapore should help, as should a light schedule since the US Open. Williams has proven many times before that she can come in cold to a tournament and dominate.
7. Jelena Ostapenko
2017 Titles: 2 (French Open & Seoul)
2017 W-L record: 47-18
2017 Record vs. Top 10 players: 3-5
2017 Record vs. Singapore Top 8: 6-4
Career Record vs. Singapore Top 8: 7-6
2017 Record at the Slams: R3—W—QF—R3
WTA Finals Record: N/A
High moment: In one of the most unexpected runs in the recent history of women’s tennis, Ostapenko won the French Open with a series of battering displays – the Latvian hit a whopping 299 winners en route to the title. Ostapenko won five three setters at the French Open and has won 21 of her last 24 three set matches.
Low moment: The loss to Karolina Pliskova in the third round of the Australian Open was a brutal one at the time – Ostapenko had twice served for the match, yet clearly was overtaken by nerves as Pliskova came through, saving a match point in the process, 10-8 in the decider. While classed as a “low moment”, it is fair to say that this loss acted as a stepping stone for how she grew as a player through the year.
Final Thoughts: Ostapenko is an exciting addition to the line-up in Singapore for how she fears no-one and plays her destructive game. It’s rare to see a first time winner build on their Slam success and despite a brief Toronto-Cincy wobble, Ostapenko has managed to power through her serving woes with her bold baseline game. While she still has some off-days where her petulance prevails, they are becoming fewer in number.
8. Caroline Garcia
2017 Titles: 2 (Wuhan & Beijing)
2017 W-L record: 46-20
2017 Record vs. Top 10 players: 3-6
2017 Record vs. Singapore Top 8: 2-4
Career Record vs. Singapore Top 8: 5-10
2017 Record at the Slams: R3—QF—R4—R3
WTA Finals Record: N/A
High moment: Garcia achieved the Wuhan-Beijing double, an astonishing feat that saw her play ten matches in 13 days and score five top 20 wins. Reaching the quarter-finals of the French Open on home soil felt like an opening of the flood gates in terms of building her confidence.
Low moment: Garcia endured a slow start to the year due to a debilitating back injury that forced her to start her year in Melbourne with no warm-up tournaments and miss the start of the clay court season.
Final Thoughts: Garcia’s talent has never been doubted, yet whether she could overcome mental fragility in the crux moments and find the right balance of shots remained questionable. Consistency has been key for much of the year and with confidence clearing rising after the French Open, everything fell into place in Asia where she fully backed herself. Garcia heads into Singapore on a ten match winning streak – nerves will be jangling, yet Singapore was not even on the cards this time last month, so this may help with expectation.