But the drama surrounding the women’s denouement is just as great—and then some. For not only are last year’s top two qualifying women, Angelique Kerber and Agnieszka Radwanska, plus the 2016 champion Dominika Cibulkova, all out of contention, they are not even sure of playing in the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai.
Indeed only three of last year’s eight are in Singapore: Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova and Garbine Muguruza. But there is an entire extra layer to the tournament this year: the No1 ranking.
For no fewer than seven of the eight contenders for the end-of-year trophy could leave Singapore as the world No1, from the current top player Halep through to No7 seed Jelena Ostapenko. There is a points gap of 1,165 points between these two, with 1,500 up for grabs in the coming week.
All of which means that every match through the round-robin phase of the tournament, when each woman has to play the other three in her pool, is vital not just in sealing a semi-final place but in building up her points.
For example, a player who goes 3-0 in her group and wins the title will earn 1,500 points, a player who goes 2-1 and wins the title will pick up 1,375, while someone who wins only one round-robin match but progresses to the title can earn 1,250 points.
It is, perhaps, a fitting conclusion to a season that has celebrated four different Major winners, ranging from the pregnant Serena Williams in Australia and second-time champion Garbine Muguruza at Wimbledon, to debutant winners Jelena Ostapenko at the French Open and Sloane Stephens, who had not played a match until Wimbledon after undergoing foot surgery, at the US Open.
The age range? Serena Williams was 35, Ostapenko barely 20. The ranking range? Williams was No2, and would regain the No1 spot after Melbourne—despite not playing another match this year—and Stephens was ranked No83 in New York, while Ostapenko was only No47 at Roland Garros.
And the WTA Finals have captured that same freshness, variety and range, with Venus Williams the only former end-of-season champion in the field.
There are three women making their debuts: along with Ostapenko are Elina Svitolina and Caroline Garcia.
The age-range of the eight goes from 20-year-old Ostapenko to 37-year-old Venus Williams, who is appearing in the tournament for the first time in eight years.
Three of them have risen to No1 for the first time since Wimbledon this year: Pliskova, Muguruza, and finally Halep making the top just a fortnight ago after falling painfully short half a dozen times this season.
So what else makes this year’s finale such a compelling competition?
· Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki are both appearing in the tournament for the fifth time;
· Ostapenko is the youngest qualifier since Wozniacki in 2010—both 20 years old;
· The final eight women represent eight different countries;
· Garcia made the cut after a stunning late-season surge to win Wuhan and Beijing;
· Garcia played in the doubles field last year with Kristina Mladenovic—who is an alternate this year;
· Svitolina has won the most titles this year, five, has the best record against fellow top-10 players, 10-3, and the most top-five wins, 7-1;
· Wozniacki has also won 10 matches against top-10 opposition and has the most match-wins, 56-20;
· Pliskova has hit more aces that anyone else, 438 in 65 matches.
But all the statistics in the world pale into insignificance alongside a No1 race that could go all the way to the wire.
1 Simona Halep: 5,675
2 Garbiñe Muguruza: 5,635
3 Karolina Pliskova: 5,105
4 Elina Svitolina: 5,000
5 Venus Williams: 4,642
6 Caroline Wozniacki: 4,640
7 Jelena Ostapenko: 4,510
No1 Simona Halep: Won Madrid, RU Beijing, RU Roland Garros
No4 Elina Svitolina: QF Roland Garros, QF Beijing
No6 Caroline Wozniacki: RU Miami, QF Roland Garros, QF Indian Wells
No8 Caroline Garcia: Won Beijing, QF Roland Garros
No2 Garbiñe Muguruza: Won Wimbledon, QF Australian Open, QF Indian Wells
No3 Karolina Pliskova: SF Roland Garros, SF Indian Wells, SF Miami
No5 Venus Williams: RU Australian Open, RU Wimbledon, SF US Open
No7 Jelena Ostapenko, Won Roland Garros, SF Beijing, QF Wimbledon
Alternates: Mladenovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova
White Group opens Sunday: Pliskova v Williams, followed by Muguruza v Ostapenko.
Red Group opens Monday: Halep v Garcia, followed by Svitolina v Wozniacki.
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