Each Sunday, we’ll look ahead to the WTA Finals’ first year in Singapore, and preview a possible and highly anticipated match-up. First up, Serena Williams vs. Petra Kvitova.
A whole new world
In less than a month, the world’s best singles and doubles players will gather in Singapore for the biggest edition of the WTA Finals yet. The increase to eight doubles teams and a plethora of exhibition matches featuring Rising Stars and Legends will transform the sovereign city state transform into a tennis island of its very own during the ten-day event.
The South-East Asian Metropol beat out bids from Tianjin, China and Monterrey, Mexico, and will host the tournament in a brand new $1.3 billion facility along Marina Bay. With last week’s inaugural Premier 5 in Wuhan, Singapore marks a cornerstone in the WTA’s recent push for the Asian market.
Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep, and Petra Kvitova have already booked their tickets and the four remaining spots are presently occupied by Eugenie Bouchard, Agnieszka Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic. The quartet has a sizable lead over 9th-place Angelique Kerber, who needs to make up over 600 points in the next three weeks to have a theoretical shot at making it to Singapore. Even then, she will also have to rely on poor performances from Ivanovic and/or Woznaicki in Beijing.
In the doubles race, the standings are a little closer. After winning Wuhan yesterday, Flavia Pennetta and Martina Hingis have surged up to 9th in the race on the back of just five events played in 2014 (one Grand Slam), and will be looking to make a strong push in Beijing to overtake the current No. 8 team – Anastasia Rodionova and Alla Kudryavtseva.
Match-Up Preview: Serena Williams vs. Petra Kvitova
While this match-up may seem like a no-brainer, it’s certainly one for which fans have craved all year. Williams and Kvitova were scheduled to meet in the Madrid quarterfinals in the spring but the American had to withdraw with a left thigh injury. As a result, the two most recent Grand Slam champions haven’t met on court since their match in the 2013 WTA Finals’ Group Stage almost a year ago. The top-ranked Williams won the encounter handily and leads their head-to-head 5-0. If Kvitova overtakes Halep as the World No. 2 after Beijing, the seedings would preclude a meeting earlier than the semifinals. If not, both could be drawn into the same group again.
Though Williams took the win in Istanbul fairly comfortably, their quarterfinal encounter in Doha earlier that year stands out for several reasons. Kvitova had a good fortnight in the Middle East, and was able to go toe-to-toe with her opponent for the duration of the match, forcing their only three-set match in the series. By contrast, Williams was presented with the opportunity to reclaim to the No. 1 ranking for the first time in over three years and she did, prevailing in 2-6 6-3 7-5 epic, recovering from a 1-4 final set deficit. Ignoring a few double faults on break points, the crowd was treated a match stacked with great winners throughout and high drama in the third set.
There is a lot of speculation on which of these two titans would win when both are at their best. Such circumstances, at any stage of the WTA Finals, would undoubtedly be a dream scenario for all involved (WTA, spectators, media, and fans). The Czech comes fresh off her title in Wuhan and though she did not look as imposing as she did in her run to a second Wimbledon title, it was still good enough to drop only one set and comprehensively beat the fast-rising Bouchard in the final. To clinch her 18th Grand Slam crown, Williams produced some her best tennis of the season after coming in on a wave of good form from the Emirates Airlines US Open Series. This week in Beijing will be a good gauge to assess whether she managed to carry the momentum to Asia, after she was forced to retire against Alizé Cornet with a viral illness in Wuhan last Tuesday.
The indoor conditions in Singapore will be welcome by both but question marks remain regarding the specific playing style of the surface. As many players will tell you, not all hard courts are created equally; some play slowly, and others can feel like wax linoleum beneath your feet.
Both women will need to serve well. Kvitova in particular will be feel pressure to ensure that her out-wide lefty serve on the ad-side clicks, else Williams will be presented with plenty of chances to break through on big points. It goes without saying that anything left too short will be scooped up by either player with impunity. Kvitova’s relative lack of B-game has been her Achilles’ heel when Plan A has gone awry in the past. If she isn’t sharp, Williams can trust in her own improved abilities to rally, build points and draw errors without having to risk much.
This is likely one of the only match-ups which does not put the result almost entirely on Williams’ racquet. If the Wimbledon champion takes the court with the kind of steely, quiet determination she displayed in July, entertaining tennis is all but guaranteed.