WTA Finals Singapore: Kvitova into finale after 3-year absence; Wozniacki returns to defend

Aryna Sabalenka keeps up campaign for final-eight spot with Garcia victory

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Petra Kvitova
Petra Kvitova Photo: Dubai Duty Free Championships

Petra Kvitova, who won the WTA Finals at her first attempt in 2011 to reach a career-high ranking of No2, has confirmed her place at the women’s finale for the sixth time.

She will be joined by the WTA Finals by defending champion and this year’s Australian Open champion, Caroline Wozniacki, who advanced to the quarter-finals of the Premier Mandatory in Beijing earlier today to seal her own return for the sixth time.

Kvitova, ranked No4 in the overall ranks, and Wozniacki, the current No2, will join French Open champion Simona Halep, Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber, and US Open champion Naomi Osaka, leaving just three places remaining in the fast-closing window for qualification.

Kvitova’s return marks an extraordinary comeback to the elite level of tennis after a knife attack to her playing left hand in her Czech home at Christmas 2016 almost ended her career.

She made a remarkable recovery to return, while still with limited movement in her hand, at last year’s French Open. She would eventually stack up 18 match-wins, and come 2018, her form and renewed joy in playing tennis bore immediate rewards. She won St Petersburg and Doha back to back, and went on to win on the clay of Prague followed by the Premier Mandatory in Madrid, and won her tour-leading fifth title on the grass of Birmingham.

Along the way, she has again helped her nation to the Fed Cup final, having already been part of the Czech Republic’s five victories in the last seven years.

She lost her opener in Beijing this week, but her WTA-leading 47 match-wins have earned their reward: a place in Singapore. She said:

“It’s a huge honour to qualify for the WTA Finals again. It will be my first time back there since I came back to tennis, so it means a lot to me and has always been one of my big goals for the season. I can’t wait to visit Singapore again, especially in the tournament’s final year there.”

Wozniacki booked her spot at the WTA Finals after an impressive year that saw her reclaim the No1 ranking after her Australia victory for the first time in exactly six years. She also lifted the trophy in Eastbourne and reached the final in Auckland.

She said:

“I’m very happy to qualify for the WTA Finals. Winning last year was a huge accomplishment for me, and helped my confidence leading into this season. I look forward to coming back to Singapore to try and defend my title.”

The Dane has reached the quarter-finals in Beijing this week, and will take on Katerina Siniakova for a place in the semis.

The 56-woman draw is one of the WTA’s most prestigious and lucrative tournaments in the calendar, but saw several of its top seeds fall in the first round: Halep with a back injury, Kvitova, and Elina Svitolina—who will have to wait and see whether she qualifies for Singapore in the remaining fortnight of the season. Garbine Muguruza, Jelena Ostapenko and Madison Keys lost in the second round, and come the quarter-finals, only Osaka and Wozniacki remained from the 16 seeds.

The biggest shock was perhaps the victory of wild card, Chinese Qiang Wang, who put out Pliskova, 6-4, 6-4. Wang was joined by fellow home player Shuai Zhang, who beat Kerber in a topsy-turvey battle, 6-1, 2-6, 6-0.

No4 seed Garcia took on the in-form 20-year-old Aryna Sabalenka, who rose to No16 in the ranks after her Wuhan victory last weekend but too late to earn a seeding in Beijing. The young Belarusian was ranked 101 this time last year, but has become one of the break-out players of 2018 with 42 match-wins—a tally reached by just eight other players this year.

After a final run at Eastbourne, Sabalenka made the semis in Cincinnati, and went on to win New Haven. She backed up her Wuhan victory by taking out Muguruza, and should she make at least the final in Beijing, she would also remain in contention for Singapore.

In a late-night third round, she pressed Garcia hard from the outset as each broke the other twice before Garcia broke once again to take the first set, 7-5. Garcia took the initial advantage in the second set, too, as Sabalenka’s aggressive game generated too many errors. But she broke Garcia to stay in the match and took it to a tie-break.

The French woman took the first lead, 2-0, but it was soon back on serve, with Sabalenka showing off her trademark offensive game, backing up power from the back of the court with touch from the mid-court. She swept six straight points to take the set, 7-6(3), and carried on where she left off in the third set to break immediately in the decider, 2-0. And it did not stop there: She broke twice more to oust the former champion, 6-0, with 44 winners to just 19 from Garcia, in a whirlwind finish.

The exciting young Belarusian thus keeps alive her chances for the ultimate finish to the season, and will certainly be favoured to reach the semis over Wang.

The WTA Finals

The tournament is held at the Singapore Sports Hub from between 21 and 28 October, where the best eight singles and doubles teams battle for $7 million in prize money.

The singles players compete in a round-robin format, with the top two from each group advancing to knock-out semis and final, in pursuit of the Billie Jean King Trophy. The doubles teams compete in a knock-out format for the Martina Navratilova Trophy.

The Race

The winner of the Porsche Race to Singapore—the player who sits at No1 leading into the WTA Finals—will not only seal a spot at the season-ending tournament, but will also receive a new Porsche 718 Boxster GTS.

Current standings

NB five qualifying events remain after Beijing across two weeks—so a maximum of two are available to each woman

1 Simona Halep Q

2 Angelique Kerber Q

3 Naomi Osaka Q

4 Caroline Wozniacki Q

5 Petra Kvitova Q

Others in contention (in Race order)

6 Sloane Stephens (lost R3 Beijing, not currently scheduled elsewhere)

7 Elina Svitolina (lost R1 Beijing, Hong Kong)

8 Karolina Pliskova (lost R3 Beijing, Moscow)

9 Kiki Bertens (lost R3 Beijing, Linz, Moscow)

10 Aryna Sabalenka (R3 Beijing, Tianjin, Moscow)

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