Johanna Konta edged out of WTA Finals in Singapore by late Kuznetsova flourish
Johanna Konta misses out on a place in the WTA Finals after Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Daria Gavrilova in the Kremlin Cup
Johanna Konta’s outstanding 2016 season ended with one big award, the WTA’s Most Improved Player of the Year, and she came within touching distance of capping off the year among the elite of women’s tennis in Singapore, where the season’s prestigious WTA Finals get under way this weekend.
But after picking up an abdominal strain during her fine push through the Asian Swing, where she made a final run at one of the biggest women’s tournaments of the year, Beijing, she was unable to keep up the pressure in the closing weeks.
Unfortunately for her, the two next in line, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Carla Suarez Navarro, both played in the Kremlin Cup Premier event this last week, and victory for either would edge them past Konta.
And it proved to be the resurgent 31-year-old Russian, Kuznetsova, who did just that, with four wins, twice via three long sets, to affirm the last of the eight spots in Singapore.
However, few could deny that she has earned her reward. Moscow marks her fourth week in a row in back-to-back tournaments, including semi runs in both Wuhan and Tianjin before her victory today. So she will embark on her WTA Finals campaign just three match-wins short of 600 among a tally of 17 titles.
Kuznetsova burst onto the big stage while still a teenager, winning the first of her two Grand Slam titles at the US Open in 2004 to consolidate a No3 ranking and ensure her first qualification for the year-end Championships.
Then, as in her four subsequent appearances, she did not make it past the round-robin stages, and she may struggle to do so this year in a White Group that comprises defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska, US Open finalist Karoline Pliskova, and French Open champion Garbine Muguruza.
How much she has left in the tank, especially given with the long flight ahead of her, and precious little time to acclimatise to both the conditions and the time difference, it remains to be seen. And if she, or any other player, is unable to play the gruelling round-robin phases, Konta is first reserve followed by Suarez Navarro.
The Briton, as the only one of the three in contention for the last slot who was not playing this week, was on duty in Singapore for the draw and photo-shoot yesterday. And while the financial rewards just for being there may make the bitter pill of ‘so close yet so far’ easier to swallow, she does at least get to taste what could lie ahead for her next year.
The last 12 months demonstrate why Konta is regarded as one of the most improved players on the tour. She broke the top 100 barely a year back to make a fourth-round surge through the US Open via three rounds of qualifying. By the end of 2015, she was up to 47, and announced her arrival at the top table with a semi-final run at the Australian Open.
She has since reached the quarters at the Rio Olympics, won her first WTA title at the Premier-level Stanford, and reached the final of the Premier Mandatory in her debut Beijing appearance. Along the way, she has accumulated seven wins over top-10 players, including Singapore qualifiers Pliskova, Kuznetsova, Cibulkova and Madison Keys. She rose to No9 a fortnight ago, the first British woman to break the top 10 since 1982.
WTA award winners 2016
Player of the Year: Angelique Kerber
Doubles Team of the Year: Caroline Garcia & Kristina Mladenovic
Newcomer of the Year: Naomi Osaka
Comeback Player of the Year: Dominika Cibulkova
Most Improved Player of the Year: Johanna Konta
Jerry Diamond ACES Award: Simona Halep
The runners and riders in Singapore
1 Angelique Kerber
Won Australian Open, US Open, Stuttgart, a 59-17 run
3 Simona Halep
Won Madrid, Bucharest, Montreal, a 44-16 run
4 Madison Keys (WTA Finals debut)
Won Birmingham, a 46-15 run
7 Dominika Cibulkova (WTA Finals debut)
Won Katowice, Eastbourne, Linz, a 50-19 run
2 Agnieszka Radwanska (defending champion)
Won Shenzhen, New Haven, Beijing, a 51-16 run
4 Karolina Pliskova (WTA Finals debut)
Won Nottingham, Cincinnati, a 42-20 run
5 Garbiñe Muguruza
Won French Open, a 34-18 run
8 Svetlana Kuznetsova
Won Sydney and Moscow, a 43-20 run
9 Johanna Konta
Won Stanford, a 44-21 run
10 Carla Suarez Navarro
Won Doha, a 39-20 run
Contenders for WTA Elite Trophy, Zhuhai (ranked 9-20)
Konta and Suarez Navarro, plus
11 Petra Kvitova
12 Elina Svitolina
13 Venus Williams
14 Caroline Wozniacki
15 Roberta Vinci
16 Timea Bacsinszky
17 Elena Vesnina
18 Sam Stosur
19 Barbora Strycova
20 Kiki Bertens