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Red Group: WTA Rising Stars Relishing Ultimate Challenge

WTA Rising Stars Simona Halep and Eugenie Bouchard are relishing the chance to test themselves against the game's very best at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.

 The challenge of overcoming Serena Williams at the WTA Finals is an ominous one. Since losing to her sister Venus in 2008, Williams has won 15 straight matches at the tournament, a run only bettered by the great Martina Navratilova.

In fact, such is her recent dominance of the season-ending showpiece that her rivals could be forgiven for stepping on court with an air of resignation hanging over them.

However, at Sunday's All-Access Hour at Singapore's ArtScience Museum, two of the latest heirs to Williams’ throne displayed a refreshingly positive outlook to task at hand.

Bouchard and Halep, who join Williams and Ana Ivanovic in the Red Group, are cut from a different cloth than most players. Their meteoric rises up the tennis ladder have been characterized by a combination of unwavering self-belief and a cast-iron will to win usually reserved for the most seasoned of champions.

"I totally feel like I belong. I think my year this year has proved that," Bouchard said. "I feel like I've been able to play well, raise my level in big matches, at late stage of Grand Slams. So therefore, I've earned the right to be here. I feel like so excited to be here."

The Canadian is keen to stress that despite this excitement, she is not content to merely make up the numbers. "To be part of the best players in the world is a great thing and an accomplishment on its own," she added. "But I don't want to be happy with just participating this week. I want to try to do my best and try to end the year on some good matches."

For Halep, her place at the season finale is the reward for years of dedication and sacrifice. "Many things happened in my life for me to get to the top - it was my dream," Halep said. "I started to think that I want to be professional tennis player at 14 and since then I told myself that I had to work hard to achieve this. It was my dream, and I worked very hard every single day.

After struggling at first to replicate junior success on the professional circuit, the tide began to turn 18 months ago with a run to the semifinals in Rome. "Last year I started to play really well in Madrid - even if I lost in first round - then in Rome I made semifinals and I beat some top players.

"I got confidence, a lot of confidence in that moment, and I knew that I could be in the top. And then I won a few titles, and those titles made me even more confident and more positive. I took only the positive things from every match. So that's why I'm here now, and I'm trying just to be better and better day by day."

It is an attitude she plans to take into her encounter with Williams, whom she is yet to beat in three attempts.

"It's a big challenge for me to play against her. This year I didn't. Last time we played was in Cincinnati last year, so it's a long time ago. I just think that I have my chance in that match, but, you know, she's the best and it's really tough to play against her.

"I will try everything. I just want to be positive and to believe in my chance, because I think that is the most important thing, to believe in your chance and believe that your game is just close to her."

Bouchard retains a healthy degree of respect for Williams and her accomplishments, but insists that she will not be overawed by the challenge in front of her.

"I'm very excited to have such good matches coming forward. When I watch her I always try to learn, because I think she's probably the greatest female player of all time," Bouchard said. "I look at what she does and I try to learn from her.  As a student, I feel like I'm still learning.

"I think it's about playing my game:  trying to take it early, trying to move forward.  And then also the mental side:  not being intimidated; going out there fully believing. I think with that good mental approach I'll have a good chance."