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Carayol: Hsieh & Peng's Last Stand

Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai will compete together one last time in defending their WTA Finals doubles title.

 Everything changes. It's a fact of life. But in the tennis world, it all appears even more precariously balanced.

In one swift calander year, the WTA Finals has changed its name, moved venues, gone from Istanbul to Singapore and settled into Asia for the first time in the history of the WTA. In the doubles, the field has been doubled from four to eight, and a new trophy, the WTA Finals Martina Navratilova Doubles Trophy, was unveiled at long last for the very first time on Tuesday.

But the biggest change of all comes in the form of the defending doubles champions. After capturing the Wimbledon title in 2013 before romping to victory in Istanbul, Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai returned in 2014, picking up exactly where they left off. First, a Doha title was safely tucked away. Then they captured Indian Wells. A few months later, on the maddening clay of Roland Garros, they swiftly defeated not one, not two but three consecutive prospective WTA Finals duos, sealing their second Grand Slam with supreme aplomb. They were flying high and still looking firmly like the best team in the world.

Everything should be set for a stormer of a WTA Finals for this first class pairing. There is just one problem - the pair has officially split.

The defending champions haven't competed together since the US Open, and they're only together again because they qualified as a pairing for the WTA Finals. Since their split, Peng captured Beijing with Andrea Hlavackova. Hsieh, conversely, hasn't competed in doubles since their loss at the US Open but she has confirmed a 2015 partnership with Indian star Sania Mirza.

Both have insisted that the reasons for their split are not notable, but having deliberately decided to part ways before the end of the season, the defending champions' stock is down and many teams think the aura they commanded is surely dented.

The clear and most obvious threat to their title comes in the shape of the two tiny Italians with meteor-sized brains and hearts. After being ousted from the top spot by Hsieh and Peng, Errani and Vinci gathered themselves and slowly climbed back up to No.1, capturing their elusive Wimbledon doubles title on the way in 2014. Vinci will slice opponents into submission, Errani will fling opponents around with her heavy topspin, and both will rush the net and cover it as if their arms were double the size.

There are others, too. This year's US Open champions Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina, a formidable team made instantly memorable by Vesnina's famously quirky grunts, found their way into last year's Istanbul final.

Meanwhile, Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik hold a potentially pivotal 7-1 record over the No.1 seeds they face in round one and could potentially toss a glorious spanner into the works. Cara Black and Sania Mirza are to be feared, Garbiñe Muguruza and Carla Suárez Navarro are the big, bad wildcards. And, overall, the field is wide open with so little separating the top pairs, meaning just about anyone can take the title and usurp last year's victors here in Singapore.

Tumaini Carayol is a London-based freelance tennis journalist who runs the Foot Fault blog.

 

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