The top eight performers of 2019 are set to compete on Day 1 of the WTA Finals starting on Sunday. Perhaps no sport has had as many shifts in point leaders nor tournament champions as has the WTA. Indeed, the field wasn’t finalized until October 19th, as the points separating the contenders was so close.
Serena Williams was edged out, falling a mere 60 points short of the Top 8. Britain’s Johanna Konta ended three spots outside. And, Kiki Bertens, who won two titles and reached two finals and five semifinals came in 10th.
This year’s field is comprised of Bianca Andreescu, Ashleigh Barty, Belinda Bencic, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Naomi Osaka, Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina. Ukrainia’s Svitolina is the defending champion, and she’ll be determined to earn her sole title of 2019.
Here’s a look at Sunday’s matches and predictions for who’ll win the first round robin matches.
WTA Finals Day 1 Predictions
Ashleigh Barty vs Belinda Bencic
Head to head: First meeting
Meeting for the first time, Ashleigh Barty and Belinda Bencic will square off on opening day at the WTA Finals. Bencic has been hot in 2019. The Swiss started strong with a semifinal run in Hobart. Bencic claimed the Dubai Open title in February, defeating the second seed Petra Kvitova in a topsy turvy three-set match. Surprising first round losses are all but forgotten, replaced by semifinal or final runs in Indian Wells, Madrid, Mallorca, and the US Open. Momentum will follow the 22-year-old, who just lifted the trophy in Moscow. Granted, Barty will be a challenge, but not one the Swiss will view as insurmountable.
World #1 Ashleigh Barty is yet another 2019 success story. The Aussie reached the top spot in the ranking in June, and with the exception of a three week stretch, has reigned #1. The French Open champion has enjoyed success on both the singles side and the doubles side of events. In fact, Barty and doubles partner Victoria Azarenka missed their bid to the WTA Finals by less than 500 points. Clearly, it’s been a stellar year for the 23-year-old.
Ashleigh Barty demonstrates amazing court craft. Though she’s known for her backhand slice, Barty can mix power with placement, slice with stamina and can turn defense into offense with her strategic execution. If Bencic has any momentary lapses or experiences a frustrating few games, Ashleigh Barty will run away with this match. Yet, between two fierce competitors, Bencic can and will course correct but not enough to challenge Barty. Expect two tight sets which Barty finds her way through.
Prediction: Barty in 2
Naomi Osaka vs Petra Kvitova
Head to head: Osaka 1-0 Kvitova
It’s a repeat of the Australian Open final in which Petra Kvitova is undoubtedly looking for a different outcome. After a tight, three-set bout, Naomi Osaka emerged the victor. Surprisingly, the Australian Open was the only meeting between Kvitova and Osaka.
The lefty Czech has the ability to beat anyone on any given day as evidenced by Kvitova’s 2019 titles in Stuttgart and Sydney. Certainly not without her struggles this year, it appears Kvitova has saved her best for last – a semifinal run Wuhan and a quarterfinal run in Beijing.
Naomi Osaka is another player who’s year has been a mixed bag. The Japanese superstar started her year with a semifinal run in Brisbane and a Slam title at the Australian Open only to fall in her Dubai opener. Not surprising that Osaka would waiver with such heavy expectations on her shoulders. It seems the fun has returned and an invigorated Osaka has emerged.
I expect this will be another three set battle as these two contenders compete for their share of the $14m prize. Both ladies have been playing solid tennis and you have two power players who will look to control the court. Coming off her Beijing title, Osaka gets the every so slight edge to come through in the third set.
Prediction: Osaka in 3
Main Photo from Getty.