WATCH—Angelique Kerber leads WTA Finals lineup:
Coming into the WTA Finals in Singapore, two opposing questions come to mind: (1) Should we be bummed that Serena Williams and Simona Halep, the tour’s biggest draw and its No. 1 player, respectively, are absent? Or (2) Should we be pleased to see the WTA’s other eight top performers of 2018, including such fan favorites as Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova, face off against each other in a weeklong, elite-only showdown?
To me, the tours’ season-enders are the sport’s dessert options. After the four courses of the Slams, the WTA Finals might not be strictly necessary, but it’s fun. Now that the players have qualified, and the groups have been made, here’s a look at where each woman stands, and what we can expect from them over the next week. The No. 1 ranking isn’t on the line; Halep has clinched that. So it’s just matches, between the year’s best, for the next eight days. For tennis fans, that should be enough.
Angelique Kerber (2018 record: 45-17; WTA Finals record: 6-8; Record vs. group: 6-6)
Kerber won two tournaments in 2018, but one of them was Wimbledon; hence her No. 3 ranking, and her top billing in the Red Group. Since then, she has been OK, but not good enough, apparently, to keep working with the coach who took her back to the top of the game, Wim Fissette—they broke up earlier this week. Kerber is 6-8 in WTA Finals, but she did reach the title match in Singapore in 2016, and the low-and-slow surface there should theoretically be to her liking. Kerber, more than most, is a momentum player and a confidence player; how she fares in her first match, against Kiki Bertens, should tell us a lot about how she’ll fare all week. But she has to like the fact that she’s the only player in this group who’s not a WTA Finals rookie.
Naomi Osaka (2018 record: 42-17; WTA Finals record: 0-0; Record vs. group: 2-4)
Like Kerber, Osaka won two tournaments this year. Also like Kerber, one of them was a big one, the US Open. The other, in Indian Wells, wasn’t too shabby, either. Unlike some players, Osaka hasn’t fallen off the face of the earth after her breakthrough win. Since the Open, she has reached the final in Tokyo and the semifinals in Beijing. How will she react to her first year-end championship, on an indoor surface that seems to be unlike any other, against all-quality opponents? It’s an interesting question; once she’s rolling, Osaka tends to keep rolling, over any opponent who happens to be in front of her.
Sloane Stephens (2018 record: 33-17; WTA Finals record: 0-0; Record vs. group: 6-1)
Despite winning just one event in 2018, the 25-year-old American will be making her first trip to Singapore. The late-year Asian swing hasn’t traditionally been Sloane’s time to shine, and that was true again this year. Since the US Open, she’s 2-3. But Stephens is 4-1 against the highest-ranked player in this group, Kerber, and 2-0 combined against Bertens and Osaka. If she can build a little early momentum, Sloane can beat anyone on any given day, on any given slow surface.
Kiki Bertens (2018 record: 43-19; WTA Finals record: 0-0; Record vs. group: 1-4)
Talk about wild cards. While Bertens is 26, she has never been in contention for the WTA Finals before, and only announced herself as a potential elite player over the second half of 2018. But with three titles, including one in Hong Kong late last month, Bertens should come to Singapore with confidence. No one is unbeatable in this group.
Semifinalist: Kerber, Osaka
Caroline Wozniacki (2018 record: 40-15; WTA Finals record: 13-8; Record vs. group: 12-14)
It isn’t often that Wozniacki enters a big event as the favorite. Should she be one in Singapore this week? There are a lot of reasons to say yes. She’s the top-ranked player in the tournament. She just won a Premier Mandatory in Beijing. She thoroughly dominated in Singapore last year. And she loves the surface. There’s only one problem: her opponents. Wozniacki is 12-14 against her group-mates Kvitova, Elina Svitolina, and Karolina Pliskova.
Petra Kvitova (2018 record: 47-14; WTA Finals record: 10-8; Record vs. group: 18-6)
If Wozniacki should be favored to come out of the White Group because of the surface and her current form, Kvitova should be favored because of her record against her three opponents: She’s 18-6, which includes a 10-1 mark against Svitolina and Pliskova. Kvitova won this event in 2011, and reached the final when it was held in Singapore in 2015. While she hasn’t been past the quarterfinals at any tournament since August, in some ways this is a dream draw for her.
Elina Svitolina (2018 record: 37-14; WTA Finals record: 1-2; Record vs. group: 6-13)
Svitolina has won three tournaments this year, but none since Rome. Her last semifinal came in Montreal in early August. She lost her opener in Beijing two weeks ago to Aleksandra Krunic after winning the first nine games. Worst of all, she’s just 6-13 against her group-mates. Svitolina could be a spoiler, but she seems like a long shot for the semis.
Karolina Pliskova (2018 record: 43-19; WTA Finals record: 3-4; Record vs. group: 8-11)
Pliskova may be the wild card of the Whites. She’s 8-11 against Kvitova, Svitolina, and Wozniacki, and just 3-9 against Caro and Petra. But Pliskova is coming off a title in Tokyo and a runner-up finish in Tianjin this fall, and she liked the courts in Singapore enough to reach the semis there last year. A couple of good serving days, and she could be back.
Semifinalist: Wozniacki, Kvitova
Semifinals: Wozniacki d. Osaka; Kvitova d. Kerber
Final: Kvitova d. Wozniacki
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