Tennis: WTA Finals 'a celebration of everyone's season' as stars prepare to do battle

(From left) Kiki Bertens, Elina Svitolina, Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber, Naomi Osaka, Sloane Stephens, and Karolina Pliskova pose with the Billie Jean King Trophy at Gardens By The Bay East on Oct 19, 2018.
(From left) Kiki Bertens, Elina Svitolina, Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber, Naomi Osaka, Sloane Stephens, and Karolina Pliskova pose with the Billie Jean King Trophy at Gardens By The Bay East on Oct 19, 2018.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The battle lines have been drawn and they are ready to strut their stuff.

The eight women of this year's BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global may not have been dressed to play tennis when they met the press on Saturday (Oct 20) but, in their minds, the season ender had already started.

This year's field includes two lefties, Japan's first Grand Slam winner, and a clay-court specialist who has won more hard-court titles than clay this year.

Some have a little more experience in dealing with the tour's exertions and its off-court commitments, while others are still coming into their own. But all would agree these will have little bearing on how tough the field is.

To defending champion Caroline Wozniacki, the US$7 million (S$9.6 million) tournament which will move to Shenzhen next year is "kind of a celebration of everyone's season".

"Everyone is excited to be here... Excited also to play this last tournament, give it a go and try their best and go on vacation after," said the Dane, who wore a black dress.

"Coming back here as the defending champion is always something very special. It's something everyone wants to do. They want to be here at the beginning of the year."

Wozniacki, who won her third title of the year at the China Open in Beijing earlier this month, will play the second White Group match against Karolina Pliskova at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Sunday.

 

Petra Kvitova will be up against Elina Svitolina before that.

Kvitova, clad in a white blouse and red shorts, is a two-time Wimbledon champion who leads the Tour in number of titles (five) and match wins (47) this season.

The 28-year-old Czech said: "I love to play the best players on the big stage and, from the first match, we have to be ready for that. That's why I think it brings out the best in me."

Naomi Osaka, the youngest of the eight players at 21, will make her singles debut in front of her growing legion of fans.

The first-time Grand Slam champion is grateful for the increased recognition from strangers at airports, although she is not quite used to it yet.

"Before, it was only (in) Japan (where) I felt like people know me," said the US Open champion, born to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother. "But now like even here... I just think that's kind of funny. I'm really grateful that people want to take pictures of me."

Fellow debutante Kiki Bertens, who qualified after world No. 1 Simona Halep withdrew due to a back injury, sees every match as "a new opportunity to play some good tennis".

The 26-year-old Bertens, a doubles runner-up here last year, has achieved all of her goals this year - first enjoying her tennis more, then reaching the top 10, and now competing in Singapore.

"I already hit (here) twice and (I'm) feeling good... I'm not too exhausted over everything, I just want to start this tournament really well," said the Dutchwoman, who flew to Singapore from Moscow after losing in the round of 16 of the Kremlin Cup on Wednesday.

For Pliskova, the glitz of Friday's draw ceremony and gala evening has faded.

"We actually didn't know who we were going to play yesterday so it was a pretty fun night," said the 26-year-old Czech, who wore a black sweater and black pants yesterday.

"The competition starts tomorrow so everything changes a little bit... there is not going to be much fun between the players."

Meanwhile, French Open champion Halep said 2018 is her best year on the Tour and said she doesn't need surgery for her ongoing back problems.

The Romanian also backed Wozniacki to defend her title successfully in Singapore.

She said: "Well, it's tough (to pick a winner), because every match is like a final.

"I can say I see some players who have a bigger chance, actually Wozniacki because she won last year and I think the court suits her.

"Petra has a big chance. Osaka has a big chance. I think everybody has a big chance. You never know. Also the emotions will play a big thing. We will see. But I'm not going to watch, just to tell you. No, not even one minute."