Tennis: Long campaign takes toll on WTA Finals qualifiers, but they vow to push on

World No. 2 Simona Halep, the highest-ranked player at the 2015 WTA Finals, playfully kicks a ball during practice. The Romanian star has been battling a dodgy left foot this year.
World No. 2 Simona Halep, the highest-ranked player at the 2015 WTA Finals, playfully kicks a ball during practice. The Romanian star has been battling a dodgy left foot this year.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Ten-month campaign takes its toll on WTA Finals qualifiers, but they vow to push on

The spacious Marina Bay Sands conference room was meant to be a gathering of the world's best tennis players on the eve of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global yesterday but instead it resembled a field hospital with a roll call of medical ailments being read out.

The list of injuries ran from the upper torso (shoulder) to the feet (Achilles), and included illnesses like glandular fever as the eight women provided a glimpse into the physical sacrifice that comes with being tennis' elite.

Having toiled through a 10-month campaign, none of them are at 100 per cent fitness but they will drag their mutinous bodies back to the front line from today knowing they have an excellent chance of winning the US$7 million (S$9.75 million) event in the absence of defending champion Serena Williams.

For last year's losing finalist Simona Halep, returning to the Republic has provided a balm to soothe the top seed's dodgy left foot.

Said the Romanian world No. 2: "I played my best every match (last year)... I have great memories from then so I come back happy here. I come back with confidence to do some good results but I know it's going to be be difficult."

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

I'm not a robot. I'm a normal girl and normal player... I can win a big match. I can lose a smaller match.

SIMONA HALEP

"In my country, everyone is telling me that I have to win all the matches. Everyone is speaking about this. But I'm not a robot. I'm a normal girl and normal player. I have ups and downs. I can win a big match. I can lose a smaller match."

Her biggest obstacle in the Red Group - which includes Agnieszka Radwanska and US Open winner Flavia Pennetta - will be 2004 winner Maria Sharapova, who enjoys a 5-0 career record against Halep.

Yet completing the three round-robin matches might be a tall order for the rusty Russian, whose last full outing was the Wimbledon semi-final in July following a succession of leg and arm injuries.

But the five-time Grand Slam winner, who faces Radwanska tonight, remains one of the game's fiercest competitors and should never be ruled out, especially given that she has a winning record against all but Pennetta.

Said the world No. 3: "I might have to go through rust, get over some moments where I make a few errors. I just have to let that go. But I believe I will get through that and I will have chances to go far in the tournament."

  • WTAFINALISTS'
    RECENT INJURYWOES

  • SIMONA HALEP
    Achilles


    PETRA KVITOVA
    Glandular fever


    AGNIESZKARADWANSKA
    Shoulder


    ANGELIQUE KERBER
    Back


    GARBINEMUGURUZA
    Ankle


    FLAVIA PENNETTA
    Foot


    LUCIE SAFAROVA
    Abdominal


    MARIA SHARAPOVA
    Leg & arm

at she is competing in the WTA Finals is akin to a miracle after the testing year endured by Kvitova, struck down by mononucleosis, a condition that also results in severe tonsillitis, among other symptoms, after Wimbledon.

Suffering from chronic exhaustion has not robbed her of her sense of humour though. Calling it a "new experience", the two-time winner at the All England Club chuckled: "I hope next year will be a bit boring."

There have been plenty of fireworks courtside so far from Kerber, whose four titles this term is second only to Williams' five. A runner-up in Hong Kong last week, the German could be one of the dark horses over the coming days and she too was eyeing the finish line.

"But my mind is just only here on this week... I will try to give everything I have left in my body and my mind and my energy," she said.

"Right now I will just focus on Singapore, then I know in my mind a little bit far away after here I have holidays. That's a good feeling."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 25, 2015, with the headline 'WOMEN WARRIORS WOUNDED'. Print Edition | Subscribe