WTA Finals 2021: 50th edition brings new venue, new faces, with a new champion guaranteed

Six debutantes include Swiatek, Krejcikova, Sabalenka and Sakkari; Pliskova and Muguruza are only familiar qualifiers

WTA Finals 2021
Left to right: Kontaveit, Muguruza, Sakkari, Sabalenka, Krejcikova, Pliskova, Swiatek, Badosa (Photo: Getty Images for WTA)

After its cancellation last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 50th playing of the WTA Finals begins this week in a brand new venue—for one special edition only—in Guadalajara, Mexico.

And in honour of the host nation, the names for each of the round-robin groups are named after ancient Mexican and Columbian settlements that have cultural and architectural importance for the region.

However, it is not just the venue that is new. Six of the eight players have qualified for the tournament for the first time, and with the withdrawal of world No1 and defending champion Ash Barty, there is certain to be a new champion come next Wednesday.

That is because the only two returners are Karolina Pliskova, who has reached the semis three times in her four appearances, and Garbine Muguruza, who has reached one semi-final in three previous appearances.

The six new qualifiers are all aged 25 and under, and all but the youngest, 20-year-old Iga Swiatek, are at career high rankings. Indeed five of the six made their top-10 debuts just this year, with Anett Kontaveit and Paula Badosa only breaking the top 10 in the last fortnight.

So new is the line-up in Guadalajara that four pairs of players have never faced one another on the main tour. Three of them, though, will see that remedied in the round-robin phase, with Swiatek due to face Aryna Sabalenka, and Maria Sakkari to play Paula Badosa in Group A, and Kontaveit sure to play Barbora Krejcikova in Group B.

Who are the players?

1 Aryna Sabalenka: Semis at Wimbledon and US Open; won Madrid and Abu Dhabi; final Stuttgart; semis Montreal. Win-loss 2021, 44-16.

The Belarusian’s win in Abu Dhabi was her third straight title after closing 2020 with wins in Ostrava and Linz, helping her break the top 10 for the first time. She rose to No3 in July, and has been No2 since August—so plays as top seed in Guadalajara.

2 Barbora Krejcikova: Won French Open; won Strasbourg and Prague; final in Dubai; quarters of US Open; also qualified for doubles in Guadalajara with Katerina Siniakova, and won Olympics doubles gold in Tokyo. Win-loss 2021, 45-14.

The Czech is a former three-time Major doubles champion and No1, plus has three mixed doubles Australian titles. She enjoyed one of the fastest rises up the ranks, from 65 at the start of 2021 to inside the top 20 with her first Major singles triumph in Paris.

3 Karolina Pliskova: Final at Wimbledon; finals in Rome and Montreal; semis Cincinnati; quarters US Open. Win-loss 2021, 35-18.

The evergreen former No1 Pliskova is the most experienced player in the draw, and three times a semi-finalist in the event. And while she failed to win a title this year, the Czech came painfully close at some of the biggest tournaments. She enters the tournament with a tour-leading 364 aces, and is the oldest woman in the draw.

4 Maria Sakkari: Semis of French and US Opens; final in Ostrava; semis in Miami and Abu Dhabi. Win-loss 2021, 36-18.

Sakkari began 2021 ranked No21 and had never got beyond the fourth round of a Major. Now she is the first Greek woman to break the top 10.

5 Iga Swiatek: Won Adelaide and Rome; quarters French Open; R4 Wimbledon and US Open; semis Ostrava. Win-loss 2021, 35-13.

Swiatek won the French Open as a teenager in October last year, and now at age 20, is the youngest in the eight-woman field.

6 Garbiñe Muguruza: Won Dubai and Chicago Fall; finals at Yarra Valley and Doha; quarters Tokyo Olympics. Win-loss 2021, 38-16.

The Spaniard began the year with 19 wins in 23 matches, but was then slowed by injury, particularly through the clay swing. But she is back in the WTA Finals for the first time since 2017, having returned to the top 10 for the first time since 2018.

7 Paula Badosa: Won Indian Wells; won Belgrade; semis in Lyon, Madrid and Charleston; quarters French Open, Olympics and Cincinnati. Win-loss 2021, 41-15.

The Spaniard began the year ranked No70, and then faced a blow in Australia, with hard quarantine and testing positive for Covid. The clay swing saw her bounce back, and she reached the second week at Wimbledon for the first time. She overcame a shoulder injury in the autumn to win Indian Wells, and jump to No13.

8 Anett Kontaveit: Won Cleveland, Ostrava, Moscow, Transylvania; finals in Eastbourne and at Grampians Trophy; quarters Indian Wells. Win-loss 2021, 45-15.

Kontaveit, the first Estonian to qualify for the tournament, did so with a late-season surge that garnered four titles in the last 10 weeks, plus a quarter-final at Indian Wells. It amounted to 26 wins in her past 28 matches overall. She has a tour-leading 36 match-wins on hardcourts this year.

9 Reserve: Elise Mertens [No16]: Win-loss 2021, 33-20. Also playing the doubles tournament with Hsieh Su-Wei.

The draw—NB Group 2 open tournament on Wednesday

Chichén Itzá (Group 1): [Seeding]

Aryna Sabalenka [1]

Maria Sakkari [5]

Iga Swiatek [4]

Paula Badosa [7]

Teotihuacán (Group 2): [Seeding]

Barbora Krejcikova [3]

Karolina Pliskova [2]

Garbiñe Muguruza [6]

Anett Kontaveit [8]

Facts and figures

Prize purse: $4 million singles, $1 million doubles

First champion: 17-year-old Chris Evert, who went on to win four of the first six finales

Most singles titles: Martina Navratilova won a record eight times, from a record 14 appearances

Most doubles titles: Navratilova won 13 times

Most singles/doubles double: Navratilova won singles and doubles in same year six times

Only singles/doubles entry this year: Krejcikova, with Siniakova

Dates and times

Play begins Wednesday 10 November, with 2pm day session and 7.30pm night session every day until the final. Each session has a singles match followed by a doubles match.

Semi-finals on Tuesday 16 November, also 2pm and 7.30pm

Final on Wednesday 17 November, doubles final at 5pm, singles final at 7.30pm

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