Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews the 2016 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore.
Welcome to Singapore for the 2016 BNP Paribas WTA Finals, the year-end coronation of women’s tennis—except, there’s actually another event after this one on the WTA calendar.
Oh well. Still, these WTA Finals, as they say, are for all the marbles.
Another quirky feature of this year’s edition? The main draw for the round-robin portion of these WTA Finals was made even though only seven of the participants were known as I started writing this. By the time you’ll read this, I’ll have waited on the outcome of the weekend’s Kremlin Cup title to know whether Svetlana Kunetsova managed to defend her title and book her ticket for Singapore. (Hint: she did.)
Still, let’s preview these WTA Finals.
The absentee: Serena Williams
In a perfect world, Serena Williams would have been in Singapore and battled for the year-end No. 1 ranking, and we would have witnessed quite a finale between her and the current best player in the world… but alas, this isn’t the case. Williams has pulled out of the event, ensuring that Angelique Kerber will finish at No. 1.
Although, would we even have had that perfect scenario? Williams has been great in 2016 but with only two titles to her name, she’s fallen way below the lofty expectations she’s set for herself. We’ll never know what would have happened, and it’s okay.
The favourite: Angelique Kerber
It’s okay, because Kerber is here and the German has reigned supreme over this entire season. Her unlikely ascent to World No. 1 player started with a title at the Australian Open, and here we are eight or so months later. Kerber doesn’t have much to play for in Singapore and has yet to emerge from the round robin in three prior appearances, but something tells us this year may be different.
The next ones up: Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza
As Williams fades away, and maybe this season was a first glance, Simona Halep could be next in line. We know, we know: it’s Kerber who’s atop the rankings, and who has the major titles, but Halep is no slouch. This season, she won as many titles as the German, and the only things left for her to win are the cream of the crop of the WTA calendar; a win in Singapore would go a long way.
Meanwhile, Garbine Muguruza hasn’t enjoyed as stellar a season as you may think she has: you’ll say that she does one major title at the French Open, and we’ll counter that this is the one title she has captured all season long. It could be better, let’s say, and Singapore would help.
The veterans: Agnieszka Radwanska, Dominika Cibulkova, Svetlana Kuznetsova
Agnieszka Radwanska is the Singapore defending champion and has won three titles this season; other than Kerber, no one in this field has more than her 51 WTA wins in 2016. Dominika Cibulkova has three titles and has used this season as a rebound after her run to the 2014 Australian Open final; she also got married this past summer, so we’re pulling for her. Could this be it for Svetlana Kuznetsova? At 31, she knows her best playing days are behind her and is enjoying every moment of this late-career surge.
The happy-to-be-here newcomers: Karolina Pliskova, Madison Keys
This pair could be make the trip to the WTA Finals often in the years to come, as both are young and in ascension. Watching Karolina Pliskova’s run to the US Open final, defeating Venus and Serena Williams in the process, was as thrilling as anything this season; a nice showing her would propel her for the 2017 season. Madison Keys, meanwhile, is the youngest player in the field at just 21 years old. She’s probably angling for the future, though a win would let everyone know the future has arrived.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG