Tennis: It's anyone's game at WTA Finals

From left: WTA legend ambassadors Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Mary Pierce, Monica Seles, Iva Majoli and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario at the Marina Bay Sands.
From left: WTA legend ambassadors Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Mary Pierce, Monica Seles, Iva Majoli and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario at the Marina Bay Sands.PHOTO COURTESY OF CLIVE BRUNSKILL

Ambassador Majoli also feels Ostapenko has the game to reach top five in rankings

When Jelena Ostapenko defied the odds in June to become the first unseeded women's player to win the French Open since 1933, the Latvian became an overnight sensation as she was feted by the women's tennis fraternity.

Yet exactly 20 years ago, the French Open women's singles title was also won by an unheralded teenager - Croatia's Iva Majoli, who stunned Swiss star Martina Hingis at Roland Garros.

Both were just 19 years old when they recorded their memorable triumphs, and Majoli - a former world No. 4 - believes that Ostapenko is on her way to greater heights.

"She's improved a lot in the last year alone. She'll be a top-five player next year for sure," the 39-year-old told The Straits Times yesterday in a phone interview from Montenegro.

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Majoli had also tipped Ostapenko to qualify for the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Finals, and identified her aggressive playing style as a formidable weapon at the Oct 22-29 tournament in Singapore.

She said: "She's a strong girl, she plays fast and hard. Her backhand is her biggest weapon.

"When Ostapenko's on a roll, she's amazing. She could be a dark horse at the WTA Finals."

With about 80 days to go before the WTA Finals, it is anybody's guess as to who will be among the top-eight players in the world and qualify for the season-ending event.

It has indeed been a wide open women's tennis season, with former world No. 1 Serena Williams expecting her first child and Maria Sharapova taking her first steps back from a 15-month doping suspension.

Exciting young players like Ostapenko, Elina Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova are making a push for the top-eight spots, as are veterans like Serena's older sister, Venus.

Majoli, who is the WTA Finals ambassador, believes that this year's tournament could see a brand new champion.

She said: "We have some of the best tennis players potentially in the Finals. Venus Williams, who is a senior player, Elina Svitolina will be hard to beat, and Ostapenko showed what she did at the French Open.

"There's a big, young generation coming up. People expect the same names to be in the top eight, but at some point, you just need new names.

"It's an interesting season so far. Everybody currently in the top eight deserves to be there. All these girls have a chance at winning the Finals."

Romania's Simona Halep (4,020 points) is leading the way in the "Road to Singapore" ranking, which determines the final contenders.

Pliskova and Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza are behind, with Ostapenko in eighth place.

This will be the penultimate year that Singapore is hosting the Finals at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

Last year, Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova beat Germany's Angelique Kerber in the final to clinch the singles title.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2017, with the headline 'It's anyone's game at WTA Finals'. Print Edition | Subscribe