Embed from Getty ImagesFor the WTA, 2014 has been a showcase year for both the depth and potential of its tour.
While its marquee stars, namely Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, have mainly reserved quality performances for one of this year’s four majors, former (Ivanovic, Wozniacki) and future (Halep, Bouchard) stars have been notably present in the latter weeks of many important tournaments. Throwing in Petra Kvitova and Agnieszka Radwanska, these players rightfully make up the Elite Eight that will be playing at the WTA Finals in Singapore next week.
This week’s #SaturdayNightShots is SUPER-SIZED: TTI will be taking micro-looks at the shots that have made a difference for the WTA Top 8 this year, shots that you can fully expect to see at the Tour’s crown jewel finale in Singapore.
Caroline Wozniacki – Running Forehand Pass
Any talk of Wozniacki’s weapon(s) tends to revolve around her world-class backhand, a shot that has a low error rate and allows her to dictate play. However, much of The Woz’s late summer revival can instead be attributed to her improved forehand, a shot that appears to have literally improved overnight. Her forehand on the run has always been a strength, but renewed fitness has allowed to her to get to shots more quickly, adding extra zip on that wing. If Wozniacki’s success continues into Singapore, look for effectiveness in her forehand — though it always has the potential to revert back to its tentative, floaty ways.
Ana Ivanovic – Forehand
Unlike Wozniacki’s “forehanda,” Ivanovic’s forehand has been a lethal, signature shot of hers since it first emerged on tour nearly a decade ago. It remains her biggest asset, and when it’s firing, there is very little that even the fastest opponents can do about it. Ivanovic can take her forehand extremely early yet generate a massive amount of pace for both offensive and defensive effect. In Singapore, where the bounce will be truer due to the indoor setting, it should be her bread-and-butter tactic — and one that could get her out of trouble in the most seemingly hopeless of court-positions:
Agnieszka Radwanska – Volley
It may seem cliché, but Radwanska’s success has never come from blasting opponents off the court. Instead, she uses her defensive abilities and improvisational guile to win points. Her volleying skills are of particular note, as she has an excellent sense of when to come forward and when to stay back. Behind solid approaches to the net, Radwanska can come up with effective volleys and smashes. She’s one of the very few WTA players who can claim a overhead backhand among her arsenal. If Radwanska is fit, her presence in Singapore could be resounding — and highlight-reel worthy.
Eugenie Bouchard – Backhand Return
Bouchard’s incorporates an interesting aesthetic on her forehand; likewise, her backhand is mutually unconventional. Yet – for whatever reason – the technique she uses on the backhand works perfectly on the return of serve. Unlike her forehand, the backhand seems like the more natural shot for the Wimbledon finalist, and though she strikes it unpredictably, it is always with conviction. She manages to get on top of the ball on returns, allowing her to break even the most solid of serves. Bouchard may have been struggling with injury since her exceptional Wuhan run, but expect her to be strong on return nonetheless.
Simona Halep – Cross-Court Backhand
Gifted with arguably the most technically sound game on tour, Halep’s groundstrokes are both pleasing to watch and difficult to deal with. While there is little separating her forehand and backhand, the backhand tends to hold up stronger under pressure than her more explosive – but slightly more volatile – forehand. On the run, she can hit her backhand down the line and cross court; but the offensive cross-court backhand is her greatest tactic. The French Open runner-up opens up the court so well on both wings, and finishing points with her sound backhand should make her a force to be reckoned with at the WTA Finals.
Petra Kvitova – Forehand Down the Line
When Kvitova is playing with confidence, few players in the world – except, perhaps, the two seeded ahead of her – can hit the ball more effective. Even fewer can hit the ball harder. While her backhand is a solid shot capable of both slice and topspin, the sheer force of her forehand is enough decimate any opposition — just ask Genie Bouchard. She can hit glorious shots on the run, but for the most part Kvitova’s forehand is her weapon of choice. While it has tendency to go “off” and “on”, it is key in her classic lefty-serve-and-forehand pattern, and will be key over the next week if Kvitova is looking to win the title.
Maria Sharapova — Running Backhand
In 2014, Sharapova’s game has taken an interesting route under the tutelage of Sven Groeneveld. She seems more prone to constructing and grinding through points, as opposed to merely blasting through opponents. This was particularly evident on Sharapova’s beloved clay, where she has picked up the majority of her points this year. Through her run to the French Open title, her backhand was essential in turning around rallies where she appeared to be on the back foot. Sharapova’s immaculate timing and stroke production off the backhand wing has allowed her to hit crisp winners up and down the lines when stretched way out out of position and, if the court in Singapore plays like it did in Istanbul, one should expect her to pull off the same shotmaking.
Serena Williams – Serve
Technically (and historically) speaking, this is the most devastating shot in the women’s game today – and perhaps ever. Serena’s serve has it all: placement, spin, power, and it rarely breaks down under pressure. Though her ground game deserted her for a sizeable part of her successful US Open Series tournaments, it was her serve that got her out of trouble. When the top seed’s complete game is firing, her serve will be the beginning of the end for any and all potential match-ups — a third straight WTA Finals title will be well within reach.