Are the Players Qualified for the WTA Finals the Real Elite Eight of Tennis?

SINGAPORE - OCTOBER 21: Madison Keys of the United States, Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic, Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, Johanna Konta of Great Britain, Angelique Kerber of Germany, Simona Halep of Romania and Garbine Muguruza of Spain pose for a selfie prior to the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore at Merlion Park on October 21, 2016 in Singapore. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Svetlana Kuznetsova winning the title in Moscow, as well as Kiki Bertens losing her semifinal in Luxembourg, set the definitive line-ups for both WTA Finals and WTA Elite Trophy. The 2016 season, just like 2015, is going to end with the first eight players of the Race battling in Singapore, and players ranked from ninth to nineteenth, together with local wildcard Shuai Zhang, fighting in Zhuhai the week after.

The Elite trophy, which takes place in China, is a new WTA format. 2015 was indeed its first year. Until 2014, the season had ended with the Tournament of Champions; the seven best ranked players who won a WTA International during the season – and a wildcard – were divided into two round robins and played each other, with an identical format of the WTA Tour Championships.

The WTA Finals were first set in Singapore in 2014. Before, they took place in Istanbul, Doha and Madrid. With the season all set and done, WTA finals have always been a showdown between the very best players in the world. Matches become epic more than once in a while, and players fight their heart out, since they know that from the end of the tournament they will finally be relaxing on holiday. The outcome is pure joy for tennis fans, a sweet ending before the off-season and the desolation of a month and a half without live tennis.

However, 2016 has been quite a strange year for tennis, and the Singapore line-up is quite unexpected. At the beginning of the year, most everybody would be calling crazy someone saying that none of Serena, Sharapova, Kvitova, or Azarenka would have taken part in the 2016 Finals. 2016’s madness made it real!

The number one seed will be Angelique Kerber. Kerber is the new world number one, 2016 Australian Open and US Open champion, Wimbledon runner-up, and Olympic silver medalist . Not a bad resume at all.

Aga Radwanska will try to defend her 2015 title. Simona Halep will be there as well, after a consistent though not thrilling season. Karolina Pliskova will make her WTA Finals debut – together with Madison Keys and Dominika Cibulkova – mostly due to her final at the US Open.

The last two players who will participate are Garbine Muguruza, and Svetlana Kuznetsova. The Russian outclassed Johanna Konta, winning the title in Moscow and gaining enough points to climb to the eight place in the Race. The race was so close that pictures for the finals field were taken before Kuznetsova arrived.

I’m not a big fan of numbers and stats, though I find it surprising that the eight players, all together, hold only five Grand Slams, three of which have been won this year. In other words, before 2016, only Svetlana Kuznetsova was a Slam Champion, giving this field a fresh look.

However, this doesn’t automatically mean that the Finals will be played by those who will become legends. Take a look at Zhuhai’s line-up! Given no withdrawals, Petra Kvitova, two time Wimbledon champion and one time WTA Finals champion will be there. Sam Stosur, US Open 2010 Champion, and Roland Garros 2010 runner-up. Caroline Wozniacki, former number one, whose post-US Open season was tremendous. Venus Williams, and her seven Grand Slam titles. Also, doubles specialist and Slam Champion Elena Vesnina, the always entertaining Barbora Strycova, 2016’s Australian Open semifinalist Konta, Elina Svitolina, Timea Bacsinszky and “Serena’s Golden Slam’s killer” Roberta Vinci are going to be there.

While Singapore will have some great tennis, fans should keep their eye on Zhuhai as well, as the season isn’t quite yet over. Much more fun is going to come, the week after, in China!

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