The stage is set for the season-ending WTA Finals in Guadalajara where the world’s eight best female tennis players will compete for glory from Wednesday.
Despite the absence of world number one Ashleigh Barty and other stars such as Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, the event is expected to be a tightly-contested one with some experience faces and some new ones.
Here’s a look at the eight finalists for the ultimate showdown.
The five-foot-eleven-inch-tall player from Belarus has immense power in her shots. Sabalenka did not have a very good Australian Open and French Open this year as she lost three-setters to Serena Williams in the fourth round in Melbourne and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round in Paris. However, the world number two showed her class in the second half of the season by reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon and US Open. Sabalenka also won a WTA500 event in Abu Dhabi and Madrid Masters and had an overall win-loss record of 44-16 in 2021. Recently, she tested positive for COVID-19 and had to pull out from the Indian Wells Masters.
Iga Swiatek, 20, burst onto the scene when she became the first-ever Polish player to win a Grand Slam title at the 2020 French Open and that too without dropping a set. The world number nine carried her form into 2021 and reached at least the fourth round of every Major. Swiatek won a WTA 500 tournament in Adelaide. She also thrashed the much-experience Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 6-0 in the Roma Masters final. Swiatek had an overall win-loss record of 35-13 this year.
Even though she didn’t win a single title in 2021, Maria Sakkari’s consistency made sure that she became the first-ever Greek woman to reach the season-ending WTA Finals. World number 26 Sakkari impressed everyone with her performance throughout the year, especially at the Majors. Sakkari reached the semifinals at Roland Garros and even had match points in her final four encounters with the eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova. At Flushing Meadows, she made it through some tough matches, one being a marathon three-hour duel against Bianca Andreescu in the fourth round, before going down to British teenage sensation Emma Raducanu in straight sets in the semis. Sakkari had an overall win-loss record of 36-18 this year.
Spain’s Paula Badosa, born in America, made her top 10 debut this week in WTA Rankings. The 23-year-old won the Indian Wells Masters on her debut at the event. Badosa, whose best performance at a Grand Slam is reaching the French Open quarterfinals in 2021, beat four top 20 players on her way to becoming the first Spanish woman to win the title at Indian Wells. Badosa had an overall win-loss record of 41-15 this year.
Barbora Krejcikova’s French Open victory was one of the stories of 2021. The Czech Republic player, currently world number three, had played only four times in the main draw of a Major before going the distance at Roland Garros. The 25-year-old also won the Olympic gold in women’s doubles with compatriot Katerina Siniakova this year in Tokyo. Krejcikova had an overall win-loss record of 45-16 this year.
Karolina Pliskova, 29, had yet another year where the former world number one almost won her debut Grand Slam title. The six-foot-one-inch tall Czech Republic player lost a close three-set final to world number one Ashleigh Barty at Wimbledon. Even though she hasn’t won a title since the WTA500 event in Brisbane last year, world number four Pliskova’s 2021 win-loss record of 35-18 was good enough for her to make it to the WTA Finals.
Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, 28, clinched the Dubai Masters and WTA500 event in Chicago this year. However, the world number five could not go past the fourth round at any of the four Majors. Muguruza also reached the women’s singles quarterfinals at the Tokyo Olympics. An overall win-loss record of 38-16 saw her comfortably qualify for the WTA Finals.
Anett Kontaveit’s journey to qualifying for the WTA Finals is one for the ages. The 25-year-old Estonian had an astonishing 26-2 win-loss record from August 17 onwards which saw her clinch four titles and pip Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur for the final spot. Even though the best she could do at Grand Slams this year was reaching the third round, Kontaveit’s good performances on the WTA tour made the difference in the end.