WTA Finals Singapore 2017

Tennis: Title counts more than no. 1 ranking

Garbine Muguruza speaking to the media ahead of the WTA Finals starting today. The Spaniard gave up bragging rights to Simona Halep two weeks ago but is not obsessed about recovering the position.
Garbine Muguruza speaking to the media ahead of the WTA Finals starting today. The Spaniard gave up bragging rights to Simona Halep two weeks ago but is not obsessed about recovering the position.PHOTO COURTESY OF LAGARDERE SPORTS

Playing well is priority of finalists, seven of whom can finish the year at the top of the pile

Eight tennis players, in town for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore, took their turn entering the conference room at Marina Bay Sands to be interviewed yesterday, each different from one another in several ways - nationality, height, the outfits they wore.

But while they differed in country of birth and sartorial choices, all eight women said the same thing about the top ranking: It is not their main priority at this tournament.

So while it is a position many athletes dream of reaching in their respective sports and all eight of the world's best tennis players who are in Singapore want to get there, performance trumps position here.

Seven among them could finish the year as world No. 1 after the US$7 million (S$9.5 million) tournament, presented by SC Global, concludes next Sunday.

Of the seven, five have already reached the pinnacle at least once, including current world No. 1 Simona Halep.

The four former top-ranked players are world No. 2 Garbine Muguruza and third-ranked Karolina Pliskova - both of whom have held the top post this year - American Venus Williams as well as Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki.

Any one of these five, together with Ukrainian Elina Svitolina and Latvia's Jelena Ostapenko, could end the year as the top woman tennis player. Ninth-ranked Caroline Garcia completes the prestigious singles field as No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova did not qualify.



    Sept 12, 2016-Jan 29, March 20-April 23, May 15-July 16 (34 weeks total, 18 weeks in 2017)


    Jan 30-March 19, April 24-May 14 (319 weeks total, 10 weeks in 2017)


    July 17-Sept 10 (8 weeks)


    Sept 11-Oct 8 (4 weeks)


    Oct 9-present

Halep, wearing a grey hooded dress and black sneakers yesterday, broke into a wide grin when asked about her ascension to the top for the first time 13 days ago.

But while she described it as "the best feeling in my tennis career so far", the Romanian is not about to lose sleep over the matter.

"I play better when I'm not thinking about No. 1, so I have a lot of experience this year," said the 26-year-old, who had on three occasions this year been one victory away from becoming the top-ranked player.

"I'm just going to give my best, to try to be focused on what I have to play in each match and we will see who is going to be No. 1 at the end."

The No. 1 ranking has changed hands five times this year, with Angelique Kerber and Serena Williams taking turns to sit on top of the perch in the first half of the year.

And while it is not of primary concern to the players this week, some believe the fluidity bodes well for the sport and its fans.

Veteran Venus, 37, noted that it is reflective of the state of the women's game, saying: "The competition is so much greater, it's a beautiful change in fact."

Halep said: "I said at the beginning of the year when I heard that Serena is pregnant that now every tournament is open.

"We saw that we had different Grand Slam champions and many No. 1s in the world. No one is going to dominate how Serena did for sure."

Muguruza, 24, who held the post for four weeks from Sept 11 to Oct 8, added: "It gives us a lot of options and variety. It's more dramatic for the fans - and for us (players) too, to see that every week, everything can change."

While she intends to "fight" to regain the No. 1 ranking, she emphasised that there is no stress around her campaign.

"It's important, I'm not going to lie of course but I know I have to play well... I'm happy that I got it in the past and now I'm not that nervous or obsessed,"said the Wimbledon champion, who is making her third appearance in the WTA Finals singles competition.

World No. 4 Svitolina knows she can make history by becoming the first Ukrainian tennis player to reach the summit but said her target has a far longer runway.

"The goal is to improve my game, to play better at the Grand Slams… to feel better on court and just improve my game each day," said the 23-year-old, whose season highlights include entering the top five for the first time and winning a season-high five titles.

"If you're playing consistently, the ranking will come."

Day 1: Singles round robin StarHub Ch203, 5pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 22, 2017, with the headline 'Title counts more than no. 1 ranking'. Print Edition | Subscribe