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ROAD TO SINGAPORE: WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?

With Premier Mandatory events in Indian Wells and Miami out of the way, how does the Road to Singapore stack up? Guest writer Chris Oddo gives his opinion on the Top 8 and beyond.

Thanks to a wild month at Indian Wells and Miami, the Road to Singapore Leaderboard has undergone another shake-up. Serena Williams, after her record 8th Miami title, now sits at the top, while Simona Halep has vaulted past Maria Sharapova and into second place. Meanwhile, galloping into serious contention from the back of the pack, Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro now ranks fourth.

But recent history tells us that surprises are in the offing in the months to come: Of last year’s Top 8 in the RTS standings after Charleston, only three players made the trip to Singapore (Serena Williams, Simona Halep, and Agnieszka Radwanska).
Are we headed for a similar upheaval this year? Brad Gilbert, speaking at an ESPN conference call from Miami, believes it could be the case. “I really start looking at the standings a lot more after Wimbledon because there's so many points between the start of the clay court season and after Wimbledon,” he said. “I've got to think that there's going to be at least two on the turnover, maybe three.”

Here’s a look at those currently making waves in the race, complete with our revised predictions of the final eight:

The Usual Suspects: Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Simon Halep
Halep, who made her Singapore debut last season and reached the final, has joined Sharapova and Williams as virtual locks to make this year’s Singapore field.

The Dark Horses: Carla Suarez Navarro and Karolina Pliskova
They have been two of the most consistent performers on the WTA Tour this season, but both Suarez Navarro (RTS # 4) and Pliskova (RTS # 5) will need to put up some good results at the majors to stay ahead in the race. “That’s definitely where you get the points and make yourself a big boost and a jump forward,” Mary Joe Fernandez told reporters last week from Miami.

Neither has done so in 2015, as Suarez Navarro lost in the first round at Australia while Pliskova has yet to make the second week of a major in 11 career appearances. But that doesn’t mean major success isn’t on the way for both. “It was the same kind of thing with Halep,” Brad Gilbert says. “Remember, she really hadn’t made a move in a Slam [until last season], and if Pliskova is going to make a run, she’s going to have to at least make two quarters, maybe a semi. I feel like it’s really hard, you know, to make top eight if you at least don’t make one deep run in a major.”

The Inspiration: Venus Williams
Defying age, gravity and naysayers with each mighty stroke of her Wilson Blade, Venus Williams (RTS #8) is still going seriously strong at 34. And, thanks to her quarterfinal run in Miami, she’s in prime position to make it back to the WTA Finals for the first time since 2009. Mary Joe Fernandez thinks the consistency in Venus’s game will make her a threat to follow-through on her early season success. “Last year I think [Venus] really showed us that she can beat anyone on any given day,” she said. “But now I guess the consistency is what’s coming through a little bit more, and her run in Australia was great, reaching the quarters there. She just has so much belief in herself and her ability. It is a great story for sure.”

Storming Again: Madison Keys
The 20-year-old American finds herself at No. 6 after a stellar performance in Charleston, which saw her reach the final and nearly triumph. Even better news for Keys is that she appears to be quite comfortable on clay. If she can stay in contention through Roland Garros she’ll have a great shot of making a strong push during the grass and hard court summer seasons.

On the Fringe: Caroline Wozniacki and Andrea Petkovic
Wozniacki (RTS #10) is committed to putting her best foot forward on the European clay this spring. She’s hired three-time French Open champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario to guide her through Roland Garros. Meanwhile, Petkovic (RTS #9) is benefitting from being consistent on all surfaces.

Outside Looking In: Eugenie Bouchard, Ana Ivanovic, Agnieszka Radwanska
Three qualifiers from last season are in danger of falling out of the race completely. Injuries and poor play have shuttled last year’s breakout qualifier Bouchard (RTS # 29) in 2015. She’s won only two matches since her Australian Open quarterfinal and appears to be lost on court these days. Ivanovic (RTS #23) and Radwanska (RTS #18) find themselves in similar situations at the moment. Neither has found their form, but luckily there is still plenty of tennis to be played.

On the Comeback Trail: Victoria Azarenka
Though she didn’t get past the third round in Miami or Indian Wells, Azarenka (RTS #22) appears to be in good health and on the cusp of a return to elite status. As her ranking rises, so will her seed at big events, and she’ll have an easier time making deep runs and accumulating points. Petra Kvitova (#RTS 13) will also make her return after a month off this weekend at Fed Cup.

The Guessing Game: Predicting the 2015 WTA Finals field

1. Serena Williams: An eighth Miami title for Williams, and she remains undefeated on the season. Enough said.

2. Simona Halep: Halep is consistently brilliant and has learned to win matches when not playing her best tennis as well. She has future No. 1 written all over her.

3. Maria Sharapova: “Claypova” will use her dominant form on the red dirt in Europe to help her book an eighth WTA Finals appearance.

4. Venus Williams: The 34-year-old’s revival has her headed back to the Top 10, and there is no reason to believe that she can’t maintain her current form.

5. Petra Kvitova: The 25-year-old Czech has slipped a bit in the standings (RTS # 13), and her withdrawal from Indian Wells and Miami due to exhaustion is concerning, but last year we learned not to count the hard-serving southpaw out. She was 22 on the Road to Singapore leaderboard after Miami in 2014, but finished fourth.

6. Victoria Azarenka: The former world No. 1 has her work cut out for her, but she possesses the right game and the right attitude to make a push up the standings.

7. Caroline Wozniacki: Physically and mentally fit, The Great Dane is built for the long haul, which gives her good odds to outlast her less experienced competition and secure her 5th WTA Finals bid.

8. Karolina Pliskova: It’s just a matter of time: The Czech’s breakout Slam is coming, and when it comes it will enable her to make her maiden appearance in Singapore.

What We Predicted Last Month: 1. Serena Williams 2. Maria Sharapova 3. Simona Halep 4. Petra Kvitova 5. Venus Williams 6. Victoria Azarenka 7. Garbine Muguruza 8. Ekaterina Makarova

 




 

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