Kerber, Safarova, Pennetta eye Singapore as Zhuhai contenders fight on

The valuable $7m Race to the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore has rarely seen such a late dash to the wire

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Garbine Muguruza
Garbine Muguruza is one of five players to have booked their places at the WTA Finals Photo: WTA / Getty

With the WTA Finals, the big finale of the women’s tennis circuit, scheduled to begin in a few days’ time, and only two tournaments remaining to garner qualification points, the valuable $7m Race to Singapore has rarely seen such a late dash to the wire.

Following the withdrawal of world No1 Serena Williams, just five places have been confirmed by Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza, Maria Sharapova and, in the last week, Petra Kvitova and Agnieszka Radwanska.

That leaves three vacant places dependent on only a handful of matches, and as play gets underway in Moscow and Luxembourg, five women still have a chance—with two ‘reserve’ spots also up for grabs.

The most likely qualifiers are No6 Angelique Kerber, No7 Lucie Safarova and No8 Flavia Pennetta, and while Kerber is not in action this week after picking up a back injury, the other two are the top seeds in Moscow.

It will take some giant-killing results from No11 Carla Suarez Navarro and No12 Karolina Pliskova, the next two seeds in Moscow, to prevent Kerber from qualifying: Suárez Navarro will have to defeat Safarova in the semis and Pennetta in the final.

Safarova, who lost in the first round in Linz last week in her first appearance since injury and illness hit her at the US Open, confirms her place if she reaches the Moscow semis—or the quarters if Suárez Navarro does not win the title.

Pennetta, who surged into contention with her remarkable US Open victory, is aiming to use the WTA Finals as her swansong from the tour at her first and last appearance. She took a wild card into Moscow to give her chances a final boost.

Then there is the question of the alternates. No9 Timea Bacsinszky and No10 Venus Williams begin this week as Singapore’s alternates, but their fates, too, will be determined by Suárez Navarro and Pliskova—though Bacsinszky is attempting to take matters into her own hands by topping the seeds in Luxembourg. She will, however, certainly be an alternate unless both Suárez Navarro and Pliskova reach the Moscow final. Williams could be replaced as an alternate if Suárez Navarro reaches the semis or Pliskova reaches the final.

Should the petite Spaniard want a top-eight place in her own right, she has at least to reach the Moscow final—and she has reached the quarters already—while Pliskova needs to win the title to stand a chance of Singapore.

This could, then, go right down to the wire, and not just for the WTA Finals.

The last-minute jostling for position also has repercussions for the concluding WTA event of the year, the new WTA Elite Trophy, which has taken the place of the Champion of Champions event.

This tournament, worth 700 ranking points to the winner and a purse of almost $2.2 million, follows immediately after the WTA Finals in Zhuhai, one of China’s most glamorous cities on the Pearl River Delta close to Hong Kong and Macao.

Like the WTA Finals, it is a mandatory event in a round-robin format for singles players ranked between nine and 19, plus a 12th ‘wild card’. And that means there is plenty at stake for some big names. Jelena Jankovic, who won in Hong Kong last week, is at No20 and trying to add points in Luxembourg this week. Ana Ivanovic and Sara Errani, ranked 16 and 17 respectively, have already reached the second round in Luxembourg. Others, such as Caroline Wozniacki and Roberta Vinci, look set to make the cut without playing again.

Such is the profile of the women’s tennis tour, and its growth in Asia in particular, that the Singapore finale will be the climax of a 10-day festival designed to showcase players across the ages.

WTA Rising Stars

Kicking off proceedings is the Rising Starts Invitational. Caroline Garcia, Ons Jabeur, Naomi Osaka and Zhu Li will play six round-robin matches at the OCBC arena, with the championship match played at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Sunday, 25 October.

WTA Legends Classic

The four-player WTA Legends Classic is made up of former Grand Slam champions Tracy Austin, Marion Bartoli, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Martina Navratilova. But also supporting the tennis festival with fan activities and public forums are further non-playing champions: Mary Pierce, Chris Evert and Li Na.

WTA Future Stars

And at the other end of the spectrum, the WTA is supporting a scheme for tomorrow’s stars. The Future Stars programme focuses on girls across the Asia-Pacific region, aiming to promote athlete development, health, fitness and empowerment of women through tennis. Eighteen markets in Asia-Pacific were invited to take part in Under 14 and Under 16 qualifying events.

Already through to Singapore are:

Thailand: Punnin Kovapitukted (U14) and Thasaporn Naklo (U16)
Cambodia: Ho Sreynoch (U14) and Hour Sreypov (U16)
Australia: Chiara Di Tommaso (U14) and Monique Burton (U16)
India: Mahak Jain (U14) and Pranjala Yadlapalli (U16)
Vietnam: Tran Thuy Thanh Truc (U14) and Nguyen Thu Phuong (U16)

Current standings for WTA Finals Singapore (25 Oct-1 Nov) and WTA Elite Trophy (3-8 Nov)

Singles

1 Simona Halep Q
2 Garbine Muguruza Q
3 Maria Sharapova Q
4 Petra Kvitova Q
5 Agnieszka Radwanska Q
6 Angelique Kerber, 3,400 points
7 Lucie Safarova, 3,221 points (playing Moscow)
8 Flavia Pennetta, 3,153 points (playing Moscow)

9 Timea Bacsinszky, 3,133 points (playing Luxembourg)
10 Venus Williams, 3,091 points

11 Carla Suarez Navarro, 3,030 points (playing Moscow)
12 Karolina Pliskova, 2,955 points (playing Moscow)
13 Belinda Bencic, 2,900 points
14 Roberta Vinci, 2,655 points
15 Caroline Wozniacki, 2,641 points
16 Ana Ivanovic, 2,616 points (playing Luxembourg)
17 Sara Errani, 2,525 (playing Luxembourg)
18 Madison Keys, 2,495
19 Elina Svitolina, 2,410
20 Jelena Jankovic 2,345 (playing Luxembourg)

Doubles

1 Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza Q
2 Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Lucie Safarova Q
3 Casey Dellacqua/Yaroslava Shvedova Q
4 Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina Q
5 Timea Babos/Kristina Mladenovic Q
6 Chan Hao-Ching/Chan Yung-Jan Q
7 Caroline Garcia/Katarina Srebotnik Q
8 Raquel Kops-Jones/Abigail Spears Q

9 Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka
10 Carla Suarez Navarro/Garbine Muguruza
11 Alla Kudryavtseva/Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
12 Barbora Strycova/Michaella Krajicek
13 Jie Zheng/Yung-Jan Chan
14 Johanna Larsson/Kiki Bertens

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