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ROAD TO SINGAPORE RACE PROMISE TO GET HOTTER AS TENNIS’S MARCH MADNESS BEGINS

Guest writer Chris Oddo takes a look at the current Road to Singapore Leaderboard and makes predictions on who he thinks will qualify for the WTA Finals this year

The Road to Singapore is already heating up and taking shape as the WTA season approaches this month’s pivotal events at Indian Wells and Miami. There have been surprises—think Karolina Pliskova and Madison Keys, who have burst onto the scene in 2015—and there have been the usual suspects, like Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep, who sit imperiously in the top three spots.

So, what have we learned? And what does what we learned tell us about who might make the grade and qualify for this year’s BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore in October? One thing’s for certain: With three majors, four Premier Mandatories and four Premier 5 tournaments yet to be played, there’s a lot to look forward to!

Read on for a breakdown of where we’re at, and where we could be headed, below:

The Usual Suspects: Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova

At No. 1 and No. 2 on the leaderboard, it’s pretty safe to assume that Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are headed back to Singapore this October. Williams has already re-established herself as the WTA’s top dog with her 19th major title in Australia, while Sharapova made it clear that she’s still second in command by reaching the final in Melbourne. Barring injuries, we expect to see both Williams and Sharapova back in Singapore, and likely as the top two seeds.

Generation Next: Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova

Halep made major waves in 2014 when she upset Serena Williams en route to the championship match on her WTA Finals debut, and judging from her steady start to 2015 (15-2 with two titles) we expect to see her back in Singapore with a vengeance. Though Petra Kvitova has had an up and down start to 2015, she’s a proven Top 5 talent and a Wimbledon warrior that has qualified for the WTA Finals in each of the last four years.

The Rising Stars: Karolina Pliskova, Madison Keys, Garbine Muguruza

Last year we saw two WTA Finals debuts (Halep, Bouchard) in Singapore, and by the looks of things in 2015, we could very well see three. At the moment Karolina Pliskova and Madison Keys are firmly entrenched in the Road to Singapore standings at No.4 and No.8 respectively, while Garbine Muguruza is knocking on the door at No.12. The season is very young, but every version of the eyeball test says that these three talents are destined to become fixtures in the WTA’s Top 10 in the years to come.

As for the immediate future, Pliskova has put herself in a great position with 18 wins and two finals in the season’s first two months, but she’ll have to find a way to break into the second week of a major at least once and likely more if she is to stay in the top eight. Keys, fresh off a career-best semifinal at the Australian Open, will have to establish more consistency in the smaller events. Muguruza, who might be the most well-rounded of all three rising stars, will have to stay healthy and learn how to avoid big letdowns after breakthrough weeks.

On the Comeback Trail: Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka

One player that is nowhere near the top of the Road to Singapore standings but very well could be in the mix by the end of the summer is Victoria Azarenka. The Belarussian, already a veteran of five WTA Finals, seems to finally have put her health issues of 2014 behind her and, judging by her final run in Doha, appears ready to hit the ground running under the tutelage of new coach Wim Fissette. She hurdled 25 spots to No. 18 on the Leaderboard on the strength of her Doha final performance last week.

Venus Williams, a former WTA Finals champion, has not qualified since 2009. But at 34 years of age the seven-time Grand Slam champion has been undergoing a renaissance that has seen her emerge as a threat to go deep in any draw she enters. Rejuvenated, resilient and relevant again, Williams finds herself at No. 6 on the RTS Leaderboard after her semifinal in Doha.

Outside looking in: Eugenie Bouchard, Ana Ivanovic, Agnieszka Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki

Four of last year’s qualifiers find themselves with lots of ground to make up as March begins.

Eugenie Bouchard, who rose to prominence during a breakout 2014 that saw her reach three major semifinals consecutively, currently sits at No. 22 in the race after a sluggish start to the season. But there’s still plenty of hope that new coach Sam Sumyk will help guide the ambitious, talented Canadian back into the hunt by summertime.

Ana Ivanovic (RTS #24) and Agnieszka Radwanska (RTS #19) find themselves in similar situations at the moment. Radwanska made waves in the off-season by enlisting 18-time major champion Martina Navratilova to be part of her coaching team, but results have been slow to come thus far. Ivanovic, who triumphantly returned to the WTA Finals for the first time since 2008 last year, saw her 2015 RTS position take a major hit when she suffered a first-round upset at the Australian Open.

Caroline Wozniacki (RTS #11) is off to a lukewarm 8-4 start with no titles season, but she’s given herself opportunities with a semifinal in Dubai and a final in Auckland, and the 22-time WTA titlist is sure to break through sooner rather than later.

Russian on the Rise: Ekaterina Makarova

The shortcomings of the likes of Bouchard, Radwanska and Ivanovic have opened the door for a rising Russian to flirt with the notion of becoming a Singapore debutante. Ekaterina Makarova, on the strength of her Australian Open semifinal, finds herself at No.5 in the RTS. Playing at a career-high No. 9 in the rankings, the Moscow native is playing the most consistent and authoritative tennis of her career.

Predictions: Based on what we’ve seen thus far in 2015, here’s who we project to see in Singapore this October:

1. Serena Williams

Why she’ll qualify: Williams proved she’s still the best in the game in Australia, and she’s hungry for more major titles. Enough said.

Why she won’t qualify: Only an injury can keep her out.

2. Maria Sharapova

Why she’ll qualify: With clay-court season coming up Sharapova will likely distance herself from everybody in the pack except for Williams, and perhaps Halep, this spring.

Why she won’t qualify: Only an injury, likely, will stop her.

3. Simona Halep

Why she’ll qualify: Halep won her tenth title in Dubai, and at 23 she appears to be ready to make a steady march to No. 1.

Why she won’t qualify: Halep has emerged as an elite force in the game and she’s still improving. We don’t see her stumbling at this stage of her career.

4. Petra Kvitova

Why she’ll qualify: Able to dictate in any match she plays against any opponent, when Kvitova gets her game rolling, she can be unstoppable.

Why she won’t qualify: Kvitova can run hot and cold, but even if she has a rough year it’s hard to imagine a player with her elite toolbox missing out on Singapore.

5. Venus Williams

Why she’ll qualify: Williams has been a resurgent force on tour of late, and her trip to the Australian Open quarterfinals might just be the beginning of what ends up being a monumental year for the American.

Why she won’t qualify: The tour can be a grind, and if Williams starts to fade physically, it might be difficult for her to keep progressing deep into draws.

6. Victoria Azarenka

Why she’ll qualify: Strip away the health issues that plagued her in 2014, and Victoria Azarenka is still a Top 5 talent and a multiple major winner. Now that she’s healthy and gelling with her new coach Wim Fissette, we expect the winning to commence again.

Why she won’t qualify: Since returning, Azarenka has yet to prove that she can sustain a high level for a long period of time without getting injured.

7. Garbine Muguruza

Why she’ll qualify: Muguruza is a terror in every facet of the game and is starting to achieve consistent results, both at international and premier events, and at the majors.

Why she won’t qualify: At 21 and having just cracked the Top 20, Muguruza may not be ready for the intense physical and psychological demand of achieving consistent results on tour.

8. Ekaterina Makarova

Why she’ll qualify: With a powerful ground game and growing confidence Makarova, 26, looks primed to have the best season of her career.

Why she won’t qualify: There are a lot of talented players that are prepared to battle tooth and nail to claim the last Singapore spot. And some, like Eugenie Bouchard, Ana Ivanovic and Agnieszka Radwanska, will benefit from the experience of having made it before.




 

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