Tennis: Battle lines drawn

World No. 1 Angelique Kerber taking a selfie with SportCares ambassadors at the WTA Finals singles draw ceremony at Marina Bay Sands.
World No. 1 Angelique Kerber taking a selfie with SportCares ambassadors at the WTA Finals singles draw ceremony at Marina Bay Sands.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Konta faces wait to join White Group at WTA Finals as Kuznetsova makes Kremlin final

Britain's Johanna Konta could have been on stage at yesterday's singles draw ceremony, sitting with the seven singles players confirmed for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.

Instead, the world No. 10 was seated in the front row of the audience at the Marina Bay Sands skating rink, watching as two round-robin groups were drawn, wondering if she would make the final cut.

The eighth and final singles spot for the season-ending tournament remains open for contention between her and Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Konta is next in line to take the last place, but it will go to Kuznetsova if the world No. 9 wins the Kremlin Cup in Moscow. Kuznetsova will face either Julia Goerges of Germany or Australian Daria Gavrilova in the final today.

A spot in the White Group awaits one of them - alongside defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska, Karolina Pliskova and French Open champion Garbine Muguruza.

Top seed and world No. 1 Angelique Kerber will headline the Red Group, together with world No. 4 Simona Halep, who will be making her third consecutive appearance at the season finale.

  • WTA Finals 2016 singles draw

    RED GROUP

    •Angelique Kerber

    •Simona Halep

    •Madison Keys

    •Dominika Cibulkova

    WHITE GROUP

    •Agnieszka Radwanska

    •Karolina Pliskova

    •Garbine Muguruza

    •Johanna Konta or Svetlana Kuznetsova

The two were the obvious favourites at yesterday's ceremony, drawing the loudest cheers from the crowd as they made their way down the purple carpet.

WTA Finals debutantes Madison Keys and Dominika Cibulkova - ranked world No. 7 and No. 8 respectively - complete the Red Group.

Although Kerber holds the year-end No. 1 ranking and two Grand Slam titles, the WTA Player of the Year boasts a winning head-to-head record only over American Keys (5-1).

The German is 3-4 against Romanian Halep, and 4-4 against Cibulkova.

The Oct 23-30 WTA Finals, with a total prize purse of US$7 million (S$9.77 million), will feature high-quality clashes between the world's top eight women's tennis players and doubles teams.

Slovakia's Cibulkova, the shortest in her group at 1.61m, knows that getting out of the group stage will be a tall order after a "very tough" draw.

She added: "But both groups are tough; it's very hard to choose.

"This is my first time here, so I wish to have a good start and we'll see what's going to happen."

Echoing her sentiments, Pliskova, also a first-timer, said: " Obviously, (the draw) could be better. I know all the players here, so I'm prepared and ready for them."

Muguruza will make her second WTA Finals singles appearance here, and the Spaniard insisted she will not give too much thought as to who her competitors are.

"All the matches here are tough and a battle, so I'm just going to get prepared for a fight," said the world No. 6.

The top two from each group, named after the colours of the Singapore flag, will advance to the semi-finals.

The seven players at yesterday's ceremony are all primed to bring their best game come tomorrow, but 2014 finalist Simona Halep revealed the extra motivation driving her to do well at this year's event - shopping.

She quipped: "After every win, I go shopping to buy something for myself.

"I hope I can win more matches here, because I need something to buy."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2016, with the headline 'Battle lines drawn'. Print Edition | Subscribe