WATCH: Kuznetsova has been off court in 2022, but played Victoria Azarenka to three sets at last year's Roland Garros.


The 2022 WTA finals field will be decided in Guadalajara: no reprieves, no Grand Slam loopholes, no last-minute shifts.

Though the calendar structure now mirrors the ATP, which has typically set their Elite Eight at the Rolex Paris Masters, a 1000-level event offering enough points to efficiently maximize both stakes and drama, I couldn’t help but wonder if something was lost with the WTA’s removal of its once chaotic season finale.

Just last year, Anett Kontaveit was able to secure a last-minute bid to the WTA Finals by winning back-to-back tournaments in Moscow and Cluj Napoca, scoring a first-ever win over Simona Halep at the latter to bump Ons Jabeur off the roster. Jabeur appeared in pole position following her semifinal finish at the BNP Paribas Open, but injury kept her from competing in Courmayeur for what would have been a true photo finish between the good friends.

The trend of late entrants to the WTA Finals has tended to create a bottom-heavy field, with the No. 7 and No. 8 qualifiers carrying their momentum through round robin play while higher seeds struggled to find rhythm after enjoying a lighter fall schedule. Kontaveit rolled through last year’s field and made it all the way to the final, but the most memorable run belongs to Svetlana Kuznetsova back in 2016.

It's very strange. It's never happened to me in my life. When I was playing, definitely I was not thinking, you know, of somebody who I can kind of take out. It's very weird. Svetlana Kuznetsova

So late was the hour in Kuznetsova’s Singapore bid that the Russian wasn’t even in the country when the draw was made or the iconic photo was taken. Incumbent No. 8 Johanna Konta enjoyed the festivities with a mix of excitement and dread as Kuznetsova, a former world No. 2 and two-time Grand Slam champion, slid further and further into contention with every win at home in Moscow.

Kuznetsova had began the season with a title in Sydney and upset Serena Williams en route to the Miami Open final, but mediocre Grand Slam results left her just behind Konta, who had burst onto the scene with a maiden major semifinal at the Australian Open.

And yet, the wily veteran was able to take a wild card into the Kremlin Cup and edged into the final after back-to-back three-setters against Timea Babos and Elina Svitolina. As the opening gala unfolded in Singapore, Kuznetsova was blitzing Daria Saville (née Gavrilova), 6-1, 6-2 to win her 17th career title and assure herself a Top 8 finish in the WTA Race.

Konta would ironically endure the same scenario a year later, when Caroline Garcia surged up after winning both Wuhan and Beijing, and abandoned hope of the WTA Finals entirely in 2019, shutting down her season despite strong showings at the major tournaments.

But back to Kuznetsova: A long flight from Moscow to Singapore ensued, but the then-31-year-old was as fresh as ever, even opening her pre-tournament press conference with a laugh.

“I just came to see you guys,” she said as she recalled the 12-odd hours spent in the air. “Was hoping we have a good chat, so...”


Her turnaround was so quick that Kuznetsova hadn’t had time for a hair cut, something she ultimately undertook herself on court against Agnieszka Radwanska.

“I thought, ‘Okay, what's more important now, my hair which I can let grow or the match?’” she said of the viral moment. “I thought, ‘Okay, I got to go for it right now,’ and that's it.”

She would not only outlast the defending champion but win the White Group with an arduous win over Karolina Pliskova.

The magic ran out for Kuznetsova in the semifinals when she faced an equally in-form Dominika Cibulkova. Cibulkova, too, had been forced to battle late into the fall to guarantee qualification, doing so with a title of her own in Linz. Running on pure adrenaline, the Slovak trounced top seed Angelique Kerber in the final for the biggest title of her career.

But after half a decade of an Amazing Race-style finish, all is much calmer in Guadalajara, which may perhaps set the stage for a more even field in Fort Worth.

Still, not all is decided: might the last to qualify once again finish first at the WTA Finals?