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 2017 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
Welcome to Singapore for the biggest draw in women’s tennis.
Well let’s be more precise and actually say it all out loud: welcome to Singapore for the 2017 BNP Paribas WTA Finals presented by SC Global. Ouf. What a mouthful, right? Doesn’t quite fit on the headline up above.
So yeah, the year-end tournament started over the weekend in Singapore, and it’s kind of a big deal. (Though factually, with six other events still up ahead, this year-end event isn’t actually last on the WTA calendar but let’s overlook that.)
Anyway, we digress. Welcome to Singapore, yes. We know who the eight women competing are this week, and in which two groups they were drawn, now let’s see if we can assess who should be considered favourites and who might be just happy to be there.
The World No. 1 player: Simona Halep
Congrats to Simona Halep for finally doing what most seemed to have anticipated for her for some time now, namely to become the new World No. 1. Don’t be one of those who say Halep somehow doesn’t deserve the ranking as she still hasn’t won a Grand Slam title. There have only been 25 women ranked as the greatest player in the world, including Halep. When you put it like that, who cares about a Grand Slam?
Caroline Wozniacki & Elina Svitolina: Caroline Wozniacki, Elina Svitolina
Caroline Wozniacki and Elina Svitolina are no slouch and could probably go pretty far in Singapore, if not win the thing outright, but it would probably be somewhat surprising, right? They both profile as likely third or second fiddles, in some order, in this Red Group.
The would-be favourite: Karolina Pliskova
Maybe third seed Karolina Pliskova, with three tour titles and 51 wins in 67 matches in 2017, should be considered favourite in the White Group? The 25-year-old has been perhaps the best player on the WTA this season and, just as importantly, the draw broke her way: Pliskova is a combined 10-3 now against her three opponents in the round robin, with a 6-2 against Garbine Muguruza alone. Head-to-head doesn’t necessarily mean everything, no, but it does mean something.
The dark horse: Garbine Muguruza
That said, if it’s not Pliskova, we’ll go and roll with Muguruza, the WTA player of the year. By and large, the Spaniard tends to play her best tennis on the biggest stages and what could be bigger than a showdown with Halep over who finishes as the year-end No. 1 player in the world?
The Happy-to-be-here: Venus Williams, Caroline Garcia
At 37, and with what she’s endured over the years, Venus Williams is likely literally just happy to be in Singapore. Oh, she’ll compete and do her best, etc., but yeah win or lose probably won’t change all that much. Caroline Garcia was last to qualify for this tournament after what’s been by far the best year of her career: three years ago, the French player finished ranked at No. 38, two years ago at No. 35 and a year ago, at No. 23. She’s a combined 2-5 against her Red Group opponents. It’s fine.
The youngster: Jelena Ostapenko
At this point, with a Roland-Garros title and the Most Improved Player title, Jelena Ostapenko’s 2017 season was a success regardless of whatever else might come. If that all sounds very similar to the category above, well you’re not wrong—but Ostapenko is 20 years old, still very young, so she’s in a category of her own.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG