The popular Russian, who built up some fine results in the first half of the year—the titles in Indian Wells and Stuttgart and final finishes in Miami, Madrid and the French Open—has played only one match since her second round exit at Wimbledon, sidelined with a shoulder injury.
What will concern her millions of fans is that her right shoulder has been a recurrent problem over the years, requiring a long layoff after surgery at the end of 2008. She was also forced to withdraw after two round-robin matches at the 2011 WTA Championships with a recurrent ankle injury.
It is a big blow after a resurgent 2012 season that brought her titles at Roland Garros, Stuttgart and Rome, an Olympic silver medal and final finishes at the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, Beijing and the WTA Championships themselves. She took the No1 ranking during Wimbledon and ended the year at No2.
She said of her withdrawal: “I am very disappointed that I will not be able to play in the WTA Championships this year. The fans in Istanbul have welcomed us each year with such intense passion and warmth, I will sincerely miss the energy and excitement they brought to the year-end tournament. I want to thank Istanbul for being a tremendous host and hope to play in Turkey sometime in the future.”
Sharapova’s ill fortune, though, leaves an opening for one more woman to qualify for Istanbul as the last of the original eight slots were fill by Petra Kvitova, Sara Errani and Jelena Jankovic this week.
Kvitova found some great late-season form to surge past world No6 Errani in the race to Istanbul. She won in Tokyo then reached the semis in Beijing to claim her third successive year in the Championships that she won in 2011.
Errani has been on the cusp of qualification since the US Open but has been struggling to match her strong showing of the first half of the year, when finals in Dubai and Paris were backed up by the Acapulco title and semi finishes in Madrid, Rome and the French Open. After falling in the first round in Tokyo, though, she sealed her place with a third-round finish in Beijing.
And not only has Errani qualified for the singles in Istanbul for the second straight year but she has done the same in the doubles, alongside fellow Italian Roberta Vinci.
Former world No1 Jankovic has been enjoying some of her best form in years. She began 2013 outside the top 20, then won the title in Bogota before reaching the finals in Charleston, the quarters at Roland Garros, and the semis in Cincinnati. She then surged to the finals of the last Premier Mandatory of the year last week in Beijing. That took her to No8 and to the Championships for the fifth time, her first since 2010. She has subsequently pulled out of Osaka, where she was No1 seed, with a left hip injury.
With Sharapova’s withdrawal, there is room for one more woman to qualify plus one reserve spot. Those two places look destined to go to Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki, both of whom have made late runs.
Favourite on current form is Kerber, No9 in the race, who beat No10 Wozniacki in the semis of Tokyo and went on to lose in three sets to Kvitova in the final. She also reached the quarters in Beijing last week.
Kerber is looking to reinforce her claim with a late entry to Linz as a wild card and No1 seed this week, where Sloane Stephens is No2. The young American is right behind Wozniacki in the race at No11, and still a danger to the Dane’s ambitions.
1 Serena Williams
2 Victoria Azarenka
3 Agnieszka Radwanska
4 Na Li
5 Petra Kvitova
6 Sara Errani
7 Jelena Jankovic
Still to qualify, one woman plus one reserve
8 Angelique Kerber, 3,505 points
9 Caroline Wozniacki, 3,300 points
10 Sloane Stephens, 3,185 points
11 Roberta Vinci, 3,170 points
MORE: The latest football news
MORE: The latest tennis news