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INTERVIEW: WTA CEO Steve Simon on the season-ending championships

 

Picking a favorite to come away with the title at this week's WTA Elite Trophy is as difficult a task as qualifying for the year-end event.

A two-time Grand Slam champion. A US Open finalist. Players who've been dominant at stretches this fall. They're all part of the 12-player field at the tournament for players ranked 9-20 who didn't qualify for the just-concluded WTA Finals in Singapore.

If any of the players in Zhuhai this week were to make it to next year's "Elite 8," it wouldn't be a surprise, and given the depth on display on the WTA the past two seasons, it's within the realm of possibility that one, or more, of them could be crowned a Grand Slam champion in 2019.

The format at the five-year-old tournament is similar to the other season-ending events on the WTA and ATP tours, with round-robin play determining who advances. The players are divided into four groups of three, with the winners of each going on to the semifinals. Last year, Julia Goerges capped off her torrid fall by defeating CoCo Vandeweghe in the final for the biggest title of her career.

The German, who reached her first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon this year, is back to defend her crown, while injuries hurt Vandeweghe’s chances for a return appearance.

Play has already kicked off with Daria Kasatkina, Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka posting wins over Qiang Wang, Anett Kontaveit and Ashleigh Barty, respectively. Between them, the six players won nine titles on the season, and all of them can claim to have had career-best campaigns this year. For Mertens and Barty, the turnaround from their last event was a quick one: both of them were just in Singapore last week competing in the doubles draw. Mertens won four titles in 2018 with Demi Schuurs, while Barty—who also won two events with Schuurs—captured the US Open with Vandeweghe, her partner in Singapore.

Barty, who’s proven equally adept at singles and doubles the past couple of years, isn’t the only player in Zhuhai with a Grand Slam title on her resume. In fact, a former world No. 1 that’s in the tournament has two of them to her credit.

After battling health issues for a good portion of the year, Garbine Muguruza is in Zhuhai. The 2017 Wimbledon and ’16 French Open winner is in the same group with yet another of the year’s breakout stars, Anastasija Sevastova and Shuai Zhang.

Madison Keys, who reached the French Open semifinals this year is the lone American in the field, while Caroline Garcia—who finished the year on a high note by taking the title in Tianjin, China—is France’s sole representative. Keys is in the same group as Kasatkina and Wang, while Garcia will be facing Barty and Sabalenka in the early stages.

Half of the players in Zhuhai have reached the Top 10 in singles during their careers, and the majority of them were in contention for a spot in Singapore over the last legs of the season.

It was just announced that this event will be switching places on the calendar with the WTA Finals in Shenzhen next year. Throw Zhuhai qualifiers Serena Williams and Jelena Ostapenko into the mix and the fight for a spot in either tournament could be even more competitive, with Grand Slam champions and the best young talent in the game eager to close their season on a high note.


This Week on Tennis Channel PLUS:

ATP Paris (Mon - Sun 10.29 - 11.4)
- Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic headline the ATP Rolex Paris Masters. Watch live coverage from three courts on Tennis Channel PLUS beginning Monday 10/29 at 6:00 AM EST.

WTA Zhuhai (Mon - Sun 10.29 - 11.4)
- Tennis Channel PLUS has live action of Zhuhai starting Tuesday 10/30 at 12:30 AM EST

USTA Tyler (Tue - Sun 10.30 - 11.4)
-Tennis Channel PLUS features live competition and on-demand coverage of every WTA match from USTA Tyler beginning Tuesday 10/30 11:00 AM EST

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