The 49th edition of the WTA Finals sees 2019’s eight top-performing women tennis stars do battle in Shenzhen, China. A prize pool of US$14 million is up for grabs for the inaugural WTA Finals to be hosted in Shenzhen’s Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. It’s become the tenth city to play host to the WTA Finals since its inauguration back in 1972.
Last year, Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina upset the form book to claim the 2018 WTA Finals crown, belying her sixth-place ranking going into the event. Svitolina overcame America’s Sloane Stephens in a grueling three-set final that was a fitting end to Singapore’s hosting of the annual event.
This time around, Svitolina has only just squeezed into the top eight and there are some more new names competing to end the year as the top women’s player. Below, we’ll shine a spotlight on all eight qualifiers and assess their respective seasons thus far:
1. Ashleigh Barty
Australian sensation Ashleigh Barty is streets ahead of the rest in terms of WTA ranking points this year. With 6,476 points to her name, Barty came to the fore following her stunning French Open success, securing her inaugural Grand Slam title in Paris against Marketa Vondrousova. Barty also went deep in her home Australian Open, reaching the quarter-finals, as well as fourth round runs in Wimbledon and the US Open.
A naturally talented sportswoman, Barty is a genuine all-court player due to her solid technique and serving ability. Barty has finished the year strong, finishing as a semi-finalist and a finalist in the Wuhan Open and China Open, which has been a big boost to her rankings given that the Asian WTA tour events have become increasingly important later on in the global tennis calendar, with Premier and Premier 5 events scheduled here annually.
2. Karolina Pliskova
Czech ace Karolina Pliskova has also been a dominant force in women’s tennis in 2019. With four WTA tour titles to her name this year, it has been a very solid season to date. Pliskova didn’t really make her mark on any of the Grand Slam events, except a semi-final appearance in the season opener at the Australian Open. Frustrating early exits at Wimbledon and the US Open were tempered somewhat by impressive titles claimed at the Brisbane International, the Italian Open, the Eastbourne International and the Zhengzhou Open.
Now aged 27, Pliskova appears to be at the peak of her powers at present but is yet to have managed a return to the world number-one summit since the summer of 2017. The fast, hard courts should suit Pliskova’s power game in Shenzhen.
3. Naomi Osaka
22-year-old Naomi Osaka is one of the main reasons why tennis in Asia is experiencing a renaissance. The youngster backed up her 2018 US Open title with a second Grand Slam to begin 2019, prevailing at the Australian Open against Petra Kvitova. In doing so, Osaka became the world number-one and the first Asian female tennis player to do so in the history of the sport.
Somewhat surprisingly, Osaka parted ways with her coach, Sascha Bajin after her win in Melbourne. This appeared to coincide with a decline in form, including a dismal first round exit at Wimbledon. Osaka has been vocal about her struggles with her form since the Australian Open, but has ended the year in more positive fashion with title wins at the Pan Pacific Open and China Open.
4. Bianca Andreescu
The 19-year-old Canadian has come out of nowhere to well and truly announce herself on the WTA scene in 2019. Bianca Andreescu became the first player to be born this side of the Millennium to win a Grand Slam singles title, stunning the American public by defeating Serena Williams at Flushing Meadows.
Aside from her maiden US Open crown, Andreescu followed that up with two Premier titles this year too. She won the Indian Wells Premier Mandatory event, entering the tournament as a wildcard and becoming the first wildcard to make the finals in the tournament’s history. Andreescu again overcame Serena Williams in the Rogers Cup final in her own backyard. Although this time Williams was forced to retire hurt. It’s clear however that Andreescu’s hard court game will fare well in Shenzhen.
5. Simona Halep
It looked like being an uncertain start to 2019 for Simona Halep. She ventured to Australia for the opening tournament without a full-time coach. However, the year has been more successful than most predicted – even if those successes may have occurred in the most unlikely fashion. Halep was a clear favorite to win the French Open this year, but the pressure appeared to get to her, losing in the third round to Petra Martic.
However, Halep quickly rebounded from that disappointment to enjoy her best ever grass court season. She won the Eastbourne International without dropping a set, before making the fourth round at Wimbledon. A fourth title of the year at the Zhengzhou Open puts her in reasonable stead for Shenzhen.
6. Petra Kvitova
The physically imposing Czech star began this year like a house on fire, reaching the final of the Australian Open – her first Grand Slam final outside of Wimbledon. Kvitova bagged her second tour title in Stuttgart, before a six-week injury lay-off put paid to the rest of her clay court season. Kvitova has long been very at home on grass but, whilst seeded sixth at Wimbledon, she crashed out in round four to British hopeful, Johanna Konta.
Her persistent arm injury reared its ugly head again prior to the US Open, missing out on the Rogers Cup and then limping out in the second round at Flushing Meadows. However, her Asian swing has been somewhat more promising, reaching semi-finals and quarter-finals at Wuhan and Beijing respectively. Her fitness will again come into question for the WTA Finals.
7. Belinda Bencic
Since her breakthrough year in 2014, injuries have been a major issue for Belinda Bencic. However, 2018 saw her slowly ease back into the world top 50 and 2019 has been even more encouraging. At the US Open, Bencic secured her first-ever Grand Slam semi-final appearance after a straight sets win over Donna Vekic. However, she would eventually fall to the tournament’s eventual winner, Andreescu.
Her best-ever Grand Slam result meant that Bencic would move back into the world top ten for the first time since the middle of 2016. Bencic wasn’t finished there either. In Moscow’s Kremlin Cup, Bencic continued her solid hard court form by overcoming Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in a tense three-set encounter to win the title. This effectively secured her enough points to qualify for the WTA Finals ahead of Serena Williams.
8. Elina Svitolina
Ukrainian, Elina Svitolina stunned everyone to emerge as the unlikely winner of last year’s WTA Finals in Singapore. However, 2019 has been somewhat underwhelming by comparison. She suffered quarter-final and third round exits at the Australian and French Open, before reaching her first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon, where she was beaten by the eventual champion, Simona Halep.
She fared reasonably well at the US Open, finishing in the last eight, while three successive last eight finishes during the Asian swing has helped Svitolina to inch over the line into the eighth and final spot for the WTA Finals.