US Open finalists Martina Hingis and Flavia Pennetta were the sentimental favorites to round out the newly-expanded doubles field in Singapore. The two veterans teamed up in the spring and immediately reached their first final in Eastbourne. With the Race to Singapore rankings only counting points earned as a team – and with the former doubles No. 1s only playing one Grand Slam tournament together – Hingis and Pennetta spent the fall swing battling it out for the final spot with the less assuming, but more prolific, team of Anastasia Rodionova and Alla Kudryavtseva. The Aussie and Russian became a pair last spring, and have played together ever since, winning three titles and achieving career-high rankings as a team. Suffering early losses at two of the year’s major tournaments, Rodionova and Kudryavtseva needed a strong finish to the year to earn the edge, and it came down to the wire. Hingis and Pennetta won the title in Wuhan, and Rodionova and Kudryavtseva responded with a run to the final of Beijing. Playing one last tournament in Tianjin, Hingis and Pennetta had the advantage, as Rodionova/Kudryavtseva not only needed to win the title, but they couldn’t face their rivals in the final. Stumbling in the second round to Sorana Cirstea and Andreja Klepac, Hingis and Pennetta left the door open, and Rodionova/Kudryavtseva walked right through. The pair won their third title of 2014, taking out – of all teams – Cirstea/Klepac in the final. It is a debut Year-End Championships appearance for both ladies, who have gone the distance with many of the world’s top teams. With a spotlight on the oft-tempermental Rodionova, entertainment is all but guaranteed.
“Eyes on the Prize!”
It is a mere days until the action gets underway in Singapore and it shows. During the past week Eugenie Bouchard and Ana Ivanovic acknowledged their commitments to the WTA tournament in Linz. However, both withdrew after playing just one match rather than risking their appearance in next week’s big showdown. The Serb has has struggled with a hip issue on-and-off all summer, and Bouchard took precautions due to a thigh injury. There have been several comments about the withdrawals from Williams, Halep, Bouchard, and Ivanovic over the course of the past fortnight and it is unfortunate for both the Beijing and Linz tournaments. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the WTA will be relieved if this guarantees their players turn up healthy in Singapore. No one needs another Doha Championships in 2009 with people retiring, dropping out and collapsing on court on a daily basis (Hashtag White Group). As expected, most of the names signed up for Moscow next week have also been crossed out of the entry list.
Match-Up Preview: Maria Sharapova vs. Caroline Wozniacki
Sharapova and Wozniacki are a bit like the sun and the moon(ball) of the WTA. Both reached some peaks this year but rarely ever at the same time. Sharapova once again had her season’s finest moments on clay, winning the French Open, but experienced sub-par results on the grass and the US hard courts thereafter. Wozniacki, by contrast, went through her bleakest phase of the year on clay, only to emerged at Eastbourne and Wimbledon with an upward trend which she carried well throughout the hard court summer. A similar story unfolded in Asia which saw both players come away with some strong results yet never at the same tournaments. Sharapova leads their head to head 5-3 and has won 3 of their last 4 meetings but it was Wozniacki who won their most recent and only encounter in 2014 in the 4th Round of the US Open.
In what was quite probably one of the best women’s matches at this year’s US Open, Wozniacki pulled off a 6-4 2-6 6-2 victory over the Russian. The Dane had come to Flushing with renewed confidence after a good summer of hard court results, where Sharapova never looked her absolute best during the Emirates Airlines US Open Series. On the middle Sunday, it was the World No. 9 who prevailed over the French Open champion in stifling, humid conditions. It had been fairly evident over the past few weeks that the Dane was a little more aggressive in her game than usual and it paid off on Arthur Ashe Stadium that day. She managed to balance her trademark retrieving with the occasional insertion of pace. Sharapova hit her stride during phases of the first and the majority of the second set, but wasn’t able to capitalize on the momentum she built going into the decider and ended up with a few too many loose shots during key moments.
If the two of them were to meet in the group stages, it would certainly be one of the more intriguing match-ups on paper. Wozniacki has been looking competitive and ready to reclaim her place amongst the world’s elite. She rose all the way from #27 to #8 in the Race to Singapore in the past 4 months alone. Sharapova played some of her best hard court tennis of the past two years during her run to the Beijing title, taking out Ivanovic and Kvitova en route.
Their contrast of styles obviously makes for an entertaining contest when both are playing well. Wozniacki’s forehand still has its occasional off-days and then there are weird disruptions (in the space-time continuum?) when it’s her best shot in a match – see: Wuhan SF vs. Bouchard. For Sharapova it’ll be all about managing to put a little bit of hard court lightning from the Chinese Capital into a bottle and packing it into her Sugapova suitcase for Singapore.
In her Beijing form, it would be difficult to bet against the Russian as she has the game that allows her to dictate a match compared to Wozniacki. However, she will need to be sharp and quick out of the blocks; if the former No. 1 continues to remain close to the baseline and seize her opportunities to be aggressive there’s a very real chance that she’ll exploit another one of Sharapova’s famed slow starts or any fluctuations in world number two’s game.