Battle lines drawn

The top eight players here for the WTA Finals taking a wefie yesterday decked out in their finest: (Front row, from left) Kiki Bertens, Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens, Naomi Osaka. (Back row, from left) Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina, Petra Kv
The top eight players here for the WTA Finals taking a wefie yesterday decked out in their finest: (Front row, from left) Kiki Bertens, Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens, Naomi Osaka. (Back row, from left) Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina, Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Three debutantes drawn with top seed, but players say there are no easy matches

It looked off balance.

The top seed drawn in the Red group, with three debutantes who have never been among tennis' top eight women to qualify for the singles draw of the season-ending BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.

And across in the White group, the defending champion alongside three others hardened by battle on the women's tour.

All eight turned on the charm at last night's draw for the fifth and final edition of the Finals in Singapore, gliding into the Sands Expo & Convention Centre with glamorous eye-shadow, spectacular earrings and even brushed glitter that made skin sparkle with every little move.

But they all took the same firm stand; there will be no easy matches when the tournament starts tomorrow at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

Even Naomi Osaka, one of three debutantes - alongside Sloane Stephens and Kiki Bertens - who will face top seed Angelique Kerber in the Red group, looked at ease in the exalted company.

She appeared to be perched on that thin edge shared by confidence and nonchalance, barely a hint of a smile as she received the loudest cheers of the night.

  • WTA FINALS SINGAPORE 2018: GROUP DRAW

  • Red

    • Angelique Kerber (Ger)

    • Naomi Osaka (Jpn)

    • Sloane Stephens (USA)

    • Kiki Bertens (Ned)

  • White

    • Caroline Wozniacki (Den)

    • Petra Kvitova (Cze)

    • Elina Svitolina (Ukr) • Karolina Pliskova (Cze)

And, when on stage, the US Open champion did not even flinch when asked if she could believe that a player who won the Rising Stars Invitational that showcases the next generation just 36 months ago in Singapore is now back as one of the best of 2018.

"Yeah, I'm here talking to you, aren't I?" quipped the 21-year-old.

Osaka perhaps showed her youth, speaking with both her hands clasped behind her back, but the confidence was unmistakable.

And it was balanced by Elina Svitolina, who bristled at the suggestion that the groups were unbalanced, with the Ukrainian drawn in the White group with defending champion Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova.

"What do you mean?" said the 24-year-old, frowning. "These are the best eight players in the world right now. Everyone is playing well, and you really cannot choose a weaker one from any group."

Wozniacki wants to win the Billie Jean King trophy again to add to her three 2018 titles, including her first Grand Slam trophy, the Australian Open.

But the world No. 2 is not taking the absence of the legendary Serena Williams, and the injured No. 1, Simona Halep, for granted.

"All the best players are here so there are no easy matches. I'm just excited to start the competition and do my best. As defending champion I want to retain my title and end the season on a high," said the Dane.

The tournament starts tomorrow at 5pm, the White group taking to the courts with Kvitova facing Svitolina, and the Wozniacki-Pliskova tie ending the evening.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2018, with the headline 'Battle lines drawn'. Print Edition | Subscribe