As an opening act for her 2018 season, world No. 1 Simona Halep couldn’t have asked for better.
The 26-year-old Romanian not only won the singles title at the Shenzhen Open, she also added her first career WTA Tour doubles title.
Halep defeated No. 6 seed Katerina Siniakova 6-1, 2-6, 6-0 to take the singles title.
And then she returned to court with doubles partner Irina-Camelia Begu to take a second title on the day in a 1-6, 6-1, [10-8] comeback effort against the No. 1 seeds, Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova.
(The matches had to be played indoors, with the fans getting a refund, because of inclement weather. The alternative would have been to postpone to Sunday, when the forecast wasn’t that much better, and greatly compromise the ability of some of the participants to get to their event this week).
“After the first set I was not cool at all. I just wanted to win the match and I did everything I could. I want to thank Begu for inviting me to play doubles. It was a pleasure and a great week. It’s the first time in my life that I have won both titles. It’s a great feeling,” Halep said.
Halep’s only other doubles final came at the Rogers Cup in Toronto in 2016. There, she won the singles title, defeating Angelique Kerber in the final. But she and fellow Romanian Monica Niculescu fell to Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina in the doubles final.
The rare double, and still No. 1
It was the first time since the Bogota tournament in Feb. 2009 that the two singles finalists also found themselves pitted against each other in the doubles final.
With the singles victory, Halep also retains the No. 1 singles ranking. That also means she will be the No. 1 seed at the Australian Open.
At the beginning of the week, both Garbiñe Muguruza (who was just 40 points behind to start the week) and Caroline Wozniacki both had a shot at taking the top spot away from her.
As it happened, the three all were playing different tournaments.
Muguruza fell in her first match in Brisbane, victim of full body cramp.
Wozniacki had to win both her quarterfinal and semifinal matches at Auckland on Saturday because of the inclement weather. She will play the final a day later than scheduled, on Sunday.
She would have had to win the title, and have Halep go no further than the Shenzhen quarterfinals, to become No. 1.
Still, Wozniacki will move up to No. 2 regardless of Sunday’s result.
The last time the Dane was No. 2 was in October, 2010. After that, she went on a run at No. 1 through the 2012 Australian Open.
In the end, the WTA’s season finale in Singapore was a microcosm of the season on the women’s circuit.
One day, a player looked like a world beater.
The next day, she looked as though she didn’t belong anywhere near the top.
Poor followed very good and was followed by average in the order we came to expect in a topsy-turvy 2017.
But in the end, it was the two most seasoned players who came through.
Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams handled the almost-unplayable slowness of the Singapore court. They handled the round-robin format that seemed to stymie some of the younger players so programmed to the regular elimination format.
And if Wozniacki held up the big trophy at the end, it was Williams who continued to write the story of the season.
The 37-year-old didn’t win the Player of the Year award – even in this season, you really had to win a major to get that one. But she deserved it.
A renaissance season for Venus
That Williams will finish No. 1 in prize money for 2017 speaks to her results. Among the players in the top 100, Williams played fewer weeks this year than anyone not sidelined with longer-term injuries (Stephens, Keys et al) or a suspension (Sharapova).
Williams’s longevity, her unquenchable and ongoing thirst for the fight, and her willingness to leave it all on the court despite the challenges she deals with continued in the season finale.
The tennis, mercifully, improved throughout the week. Perhaps the court sped up a little with regular use. Perhaps the players gradually adjusted to it. But in the end, the surface was a significant sidebar.
It allowed Wozniacki, a premier defensive player, to have the time she needed to do what she does best. And yet, even the 27-year-old Dane felt the urgency to finish off some points more quickly than she might have otherwise.
It’s been a long season.
The surface also hurt Williams, who found herself in some marathons earlier in the week and by the second set of the final, had simply run out of legs.
On the doubles side, the decision last year to ditch the round-robin format used in singles and adopt a single-elimination format for the eight qualifying teams relegated it to a footnote for the week.
Had it not been for the retirement of Martina Hingis (who along with partner Yung-Jan Chan was eliminated in her second match, following her confirmation that this would indeed be her swan song), it might have passed virtually unnoticed.
For the four teams eliminated in the first round, the notion of working all season to get to Singapore, to fly all the way to Singapore, and to play just one match is a little unfair.
But it was made necessary by the fluctuating crowd support in Singapore.
The first edition in 2014 was a huge success on the attendance side. And while the WTA Tour kept the attendance figures on the down low in the intervening years (the numbers are not even available for 2016), they cut early-week day sessions. They cut the legends’ event. They reduced the “Rising Stars” component to a regional Asian event that also passed unnoticed.
(Remember 2015, when 22-year-old Caroline Garcia, already ranked No. 35, was considered a “rising star”? A little crazy. But a final between Garcia and Naomi Osaka that year certainly had more marquee value than this year’s finals between … Priska Nugroho and Pimrada Jattavapornvanit, and Megan Smith and Ya-Hsin Lee.)
Singapore results and grades
 Simona Halep
In her first round-robin match against Garcia, she looked like a world beater. It was Halep’s first match as the new world No. 1, and she played the part to perfection.
In her second, against Wozniacki, she won just two games. In her third, against Elina Svitolina, she won just seven games and was eliminated.
She finishes the season ranked No. 1. But she didn’t finish it playing like a No. 1. Her challenge in 2018 will be to marry up those two concepts.
 Garbiñe Muguruza
The WTA Tour Player of the Year, the Wimbledon champion, didn’t finish her season the way she wanted to.
She began the week well against overwhelmed Singapore rookie Jelena Ostapenko. But then, it unraveled with a desultory loss to Karolina Pliskova. The defeat at the hands of Williams was a bruising one. Still, it was a straight-sets loss.
The Spaniard has the mien and posture of a champion. But there’s something missing. It seemed as though she might be the one to come through and take a firm grasp on the top spot, in this window of opportunity caused by the absence of so many champions. But it didn’t happen. It’s an ongoing mystery.
 Karolina Pliskova
With one-week coach Rennae Stubbs on board, the on-court coaching consults definitely took an uptick – especially for non-Czech speakers. Pliskova had already co-opted Barbora Strycova coach Tomas Krupa for 2018, so it can go no further. But hopefully some of the other players in Singapore will give it some consideration, because Stubbs, a great athlete who mastered the entire court during her career, has something to offer.
Pliskova looked like a world-beater against a rusty Williams in her first round. In her second, against Muguruza, she looked great again. But then she was crushed by Ostapenko in what essentially was a meaningless match (beyond the money and ranking points). At 25, with plenty of experience behind her and in her second tour of Singapore, Pliskova definitely should have handled that “dead rubber” match with more aplomb.
 Elina Svitolina
Svitolina gets some slack because it was her first appearance at the Tour Finals. The players have to arrive early, do a lot of media and promotion. The entire routine of a tournament is completely turned upside down. The week before the matches actually begin must feel endless.
She was thrashed by Wozniacki in her first match. But she fought valiantly and played some very good tennis in her marathon loss to Garcia in her second match – arguably the match of the tournament.
But it was clear at that point that she’d had enough. Faced with the possibility that she wasn’t yet out of contention for the weekend after that match, her attitude and words suggested she’d just as soon not even entertain that notion. That’s not what you want to hear from one of the eight best players in the world.
 Venus Williams
In the absence of her sister Serena, you wonder how different this season would have looked without Williams’ throwback effort.
She created the spark in Singapore that was missing with the rest of the field (And that, despite a desultory and somewhat disrespectful effort in her press conferences; those on hand were only doing their jobs, and had travelled a long way to do them).
For the 37-year-old to win the whole thing would have been a storybook ending. It couldn’t quite happen. But in the end, she wasn’t the best player on the week. So it was fitting.
 Caroline Wozniacki
Wozniacki won the biggest title of her career in Singapore. And it was a perfect marriage of surface and playing style.
The commentators were gushing with praise about how she was playing her best tennis ever. But if they paid more attention to her on a day-to-day basis, they might revise that. The Dane has been playing excellent tennis all year. If she fell a little short in most of her tournament finals, she nonetheless made eight of them this season. And she improved her ranking from No. 19 at the start of 2017 to No. 3 at the end.
The muddy court was ideal for arguably the best defensive player in the game. But it was her veteran’s ability to adjust her tactics to take best advantage of it that won her the title. Wozniacki took advantage of the opportunities that did present themselves in points, and added a little more when she needed to.
 Jelena Ostapenko
Of all the players in Singapore, Ostapenko’s 2018 season is going to be the most fascinating.
Her win at the French Open, while well-deserved, was aided by the inability of some of her colleagues to seize their moment. With her inexperience, and insouciance, she had no such baggage and was the last one left standing.
But even on the Singapore court, the weakness of her serve cost her. When Williams pounced on her second delivery with impunity later in their round-robin match, the carefree ability to hit winners took a hit. And the surface hurt her in the same way it helped Wozniacki; the winners were harder to come by. And when a player used to hitting those winners isn’t getting them, they try to add even more. And that led to errors.
Only in her final match did Ostapenko exhibit that insouciance again. But there was nothing at stake for her; she was going home regardless. That was telling. Again, as with Svitolina, it was her first trip.
As well, coach Anabel Medina Garrigues wasn’t there, having left to take the Fed Cup captaincy in Spain. A calming influence, Medina Garrigues can take some credit for that French Open victory. The next coach is going to have a tough act to follow.
 Caroline Garcia
The last to qualify for Singapore by virtue of back-to-back wins at big events in Wuhan and Beijing (and an injury to main competitor Johanna Konta), the WTA Tour Finals were a coming-out party.
Of all the Singapore rookies, she was the only one who clearly lived the experience to the fullest – win or lose.
Smiling, talkative, a battler on the court, perhaps the time is now for the French player of whom so much has been expected. She let her game flow for much of the week, and it was a beautiful thing.
Given how much tennis Garcia had played in the late stages to get there, her resistance through all those hours on the court was impressive. The three best matches of the week all had her on one side of the court.
With the awarding of the big-lot points from the WTA Tour Finals, the year-end rankings begin to take serious shape.
And guess what? Caroline Wozniacki, at No. 19 at the beginning of the 2017 season, will end it at No. 3.
It has been awhile since the former No. 1 has been up in that lofty perch. But winning the Singapore event will give a player a huge boost.
It also, a year later, can hurt if you don’t back it up. Ask Dominika Cibulkova and Angelique Kerber about that one.
There is still tennis to be played, and points to be won as a dozen women compete in the second-tier tournament in Zhuhai, China this week.
Kristina Mladenovic is the top seed there.
Other than the changes in the top 10, there are almost no other rankings moves until you get below No. 50. That’s because there were no other WTA-level events going on. To earn points, players had to hit the ITF circuit.
Already this year, the 25-year-old Romanian has had two opportunities to reach the elusive No. 1 singles ranking on the WTA Tour. But she couldn’t get it done.
If she defeats Garbiñe Muguruza in the Cincinnati final, she’ll finally do it.
“It’s the third time. It is either lucky or is just an experience again. So we will see,” Halep said after defeating wild card Sloane Stephens in the semifinal Saturday.
At the French Open, just a few games away from defeating unseeded Jelena Ostapenko in the final and taking over top spot, she faltered. At Wimbledon, she was just two points away against Johanna Konta in the quarterfinals. But she faltered again.
Surprisingly, Halep and Muguruza have not met in more than two years, since Stuttgart, on indoor clay in 2015.
“I want to win it. “So if it’s gonna be just to win a match and to get it, it’s going to be more special and nicer for me. Everyone can get to No. 1 now. The ranking is close. So depends on anyone,” she told the media in Cincinnati. “But I am so close. I really want it. So we will see.”
Fresh slate at the top
If Halep gets it done, it will complete an astonishing – and likely unprecedented – week in which every single one of the No. 1 rankings in tennis will change hands.
Rafael Nadal is assured to be the new No. 1 on the men’s singles side. Finland’s Henri Kontinen will be No. 1 in men’s doubles. And Lucie Safarova will be the new woman atop the women’s doubles ranking on Monday.
It certainly seems as though tennis karma is dictating that Halep join the club.
Nadal (last in 2014) and Kontinen (for many weeks this season) have been No. 1 before. For Safarova (and Halep) it will be the first time.
At the beginning of the week, there were five WTA Tour players with the potential to end up in the top spot, depending on results in Cincinnati.
But a lot of things had to fall into place. Most of the scenarios involved the current No. 1 Pliskova losing early; Halep was the most likely possibility, if Pliskova didn’t hold onto the spot. She basically had to go two rounds further than Pliskova.
The Czech righthander lost in the in the semis to Muguruza. So for Halep, that now means winning the tournament.
But if she doesn’t, she will find herself just five points behind Pliskova, in the No. 2 spot. If it doesn’t happen Sunday, it surely will happen at the US Open, right?
Halep has quarterfinalist points to defend (430) in New York. But Pliskova lost to Kerber in the final (1,300 points). And the other contenders will continue to have a say.
Kerber is dropping
Speaking of Kerber, who spent 14 weeks at No. 1 this year, she will fall all the way to No. 6 after the Cincinnati tournament. With those 2,000 points for winning the US Open hanging over her ranking, she may fall further.
This, it seems, is what parity looks like.
But for some reason, neither Halep nor Pliskova is getting the same kind of criticism that other former No. 1s – Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic and Amélie Mauresmo, to name three – received for acceding to the top spot without having a Grand Slam title on their resumé.
When everyone shows up, there are no shortcuts to victory at a Premier 5 event like the Rogers Cup.
So when Elina Svitolina hoisted the trophy Sunday in Toronto after a 6-4, 6-0 win over Caroline Wozniacki, no one could ever say she didn’t earn it.
The world No. 5 defeated No. 9 Venus Williams, No. 4 Garbiñe Muguruza, No. 2 Simona Halep and then No. 6 Caroline Wozniacki in the final .
It is the ninth title of her young career – and her fifth this season alone.
She had won some smaller events before this season. But with wins in Dubai, Roma and Toronto – all Premier 5 events with very strong fields, she is making a statement. She’s the first player to do it.
“(I) slept only, like, three, four hours because probably drink too much coffee (Saturday) because also was very late night. And then I needed to play first match on, sat down. So yeah, coffee probably kicked in,” Svitolina said.
“I need some time still to really realize, because I had so many matches for the last two days. And it’s been really, really tough physically. Today was very hot. So I’ve been really struggling,” she added. “So I’m just very happy that it’s finished. And with a title, it’s even more special.”
Two form players
Wozniacki and Svitolina were the winningest players on the WTA Tour coming into Toronto.
Svitolina was 39-9 (now 44-9). Wozniacki 42-15 (now 46-16).
“Actually when I was coming here, I had no expectations at all, because I was little bit injured. I didn’t know how my body would react. It was very tough when I came here. I didn’t feel so good on court and that’s why I came earlier. It was on Wednesday. And, yeah, I had some time here to adapt and prepare and be ready,” Svitolina said. “And I think this was great tournament for me. I beat four really good players. And, you know, it was very, very special week for me.”
This was Wozniacki’s sixth final of the season. But she has yet to win one. Svitolina has maximized; she’s 5-for-5 in finals in 2017 including a 6-4, 6-2 win over Wozniacki in the Dubai final.
No wonder Wozniacki was rather out of sorts in the second set, as she called upon father/coach Victor/Piotr to come out for a consult.
Typically, she sits there impassively, appearing to be completely ignoring her father and his advice. But on this occasion, she argued fairly animatedly with him.
But it was too late.
“It was a tough day. She played well. She mixed up the pace and made it uncomfortable for me out there,” Wozniacki said.
When the tournament is held in Montreal on alternate years, the Dane has done very well. She even won the title in 2010. But in five previous trips to Toronto in her career, Wozniacki hadn’t posted a single victory except for her first visit in 2007, when she won two matches in qualifying.
“You know, I wasn’t really expecting much out of myself when I came into the tournament. Obviously I haven’t won a match here before,” she said. “But it was a good week and I beat some great players, and I can really take a lot with me and be proud of that.”
“I’ve never really been injured before, for longer periods of time, and last year was just one little thing after the next. It made me realize that sometimes you need to listen to your body and let it heal. When you’ve been 12 years on tour, your body just keeps taking a beating and it’s going to break down on you. I think the main thing for me is keeping on top of the small injuries and making sure that when I’m back on the court, every time I’m at 100 per cent.”
“The worst pain I had was last spring. I had my ankle injury (during a practice on April 7, 2016) and broke two ligaments. My foot kind of went out of its socket. I was trying to slide on a clay court at full speed, and it just got stuck. I was actually wearing a brace, and the next day the doctor told me if I hadn’t been, my bone would probably have been sticking out of my foot. It was excruciating.”
Putting outside opinion aside
She even – gasp – talks about hitting puberty.
“I was always really skinny until I hit puberty. As a girl coming into a woman, that time is always a little bit frightening. At one point I was like, ‘Are they changing the clothes sizes or am I getting bigger?’ I was like, “No, for sure the sizes must have been small.” I think being in the public eye and getting judged for everything you do and however you look, I think that helped me as well. Just saying, ‘You know what? People will have an opinion. Some people will love you; some people will not.’ “
One thing’s for sure. Beyond the fact that Wozniacki obviously looks great, it’s pretty clear from her willingness to do these photo shoots that she’s feeling really good about herself at this stage of her life. Those two concepts don’t always match up where women are concerned.
ROLAND GARROS – None of the women playing Tuesday for spots in the French Open semifinals were top-10 players or pre-tournament favourites.
But if all four were unexpectedly in the elite eight, there were plenty of contrasts in styles and personalities to make both two matches promising.
A rain delay of more than three hours a little more than halfway through pretty much dampened the drama. And as a dramatic device, the deluge and the long delay didn’t even come through to change one of the narratives into a miraculous comeback.
After resumption of play, they continued on much as they had just before the stoppage.
All of the rain did not, however, dampen the spirits of first-time French Open semifinalist Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.
Ostapenko looked fearless in dispatching No. 11 seed Caroline Wozniacki, a player who has been No. 1 and knows what it’s like to play at this stage of a major.
The rains came with Ostapenko on a roll, up 5-2 in the second set after dropping the first. But it didn’t halt her momentum; her 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory was a victory of aggression over consistency.
“Caroline was playing pretty well today. And at the beginning was really windy and was really tough for me to get my game, because I couldn’t expect where the ball was bouncing. She served pretty well, and then I just got my game back. Yeah, I felt quite confident,” Ostapenko said.
Six winners. That’s all.
Match statistics can be interpreted many ways. But the numbers on this one left no doubt as to Wozniacki didn’t do – even if doing it any other way would take her out of her comfort zone. Ostapenko had 38 winners and 50 unforced errors, but cleaned up those errors in the second half of the match.
“In the beginning of the match, yeah, first two sets really was extremely windy out there, which made it tricky and was hard to get a rhythm. But other than that, you know, you just have to try and stay focused and go for your targets, or at least that was my thinking,” Wozniacki said. “I guess she didn’t think so. She was going for her lines. In the first set, she was missing but then she started hitting it a few inches from the line the whole time.”
It was a tough matchup for Wozniacki, despite the difference in age and experience. The two have played twice on clay in the last two months (the first, in Charleston, was on the American version of the clay, Har-Tru). Ostapenko won both. And she hit bucketfuls of winners each time.
Wozniacki made 25 unforced errors – a fair amount for her. No doubt the windy conditions contributed. But she had just … six winners. Six.
In a nutshell, her experience worked against her this time, in a way. She played the conditions too much. She played it too safe because of the wind, and her opponent took it to her.
Over on Court Philippe-Chatrier, the tournament’s favorite Frenchwoman looked poised to make her first French Open semi-final. But a tricky customer named Timea Bacsinszky had other ideas.
Poor conditions conspire
On a day when Kristina Mladenovic needed to come out and play her best tennis, she played some pretty sub-par tennis. And 27-year-old opponent Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland did exactly what she had to do – flawlessly, fearlessly and effectively.
The two played in Fed Cup a couple of months ago, and Bacsinszky pulled it out 7-5 in the third set that time. The conditions were perfect, though – fast, indoors, more conducive to Mladenovic’s game.
This time, despite a few moments when it seemed Mladenovic might get on a run and look like the player who has so impressed during this clay-court season, the conditions very much favoured Bacsinszky.
You could see the disappointment on Mladenovic’s face, as she walked off the court and acknowledged basically no one. Head down, probably mad at herself for letting such a great opportunity slip by her. Maybe a little heartsick, too, at not playing the tennis she’s capable of on the biggest stage she’s got, even as she always prides herself on shining in those moments.
“I think Timea is way better than me on that kind of today’s conditions. You know, so the wind, of course, I couldn’t, like, serve my powerful serve. I’m, I think, a little bit more aggressive than her and couldn’t really put this game plan on today,” Mladenovic said. “I think she handled — like, her game style and stuff dealt way better than me today with these conditions, and that’s it.”
Bacsinszky credited some practices outdoors in Biel, Switzerland recently, with the temperatures barely above freezing, as a help in dealing with the big chill that came over Roland Garros Tuesday. The wind? That’s another matter.
“I don’t like to play with the wind. I’m not sure if any other player likes it. But I just said, anyway, I have no choice, and I have no influence on that. I just better be friends with the wind today and with the rain delays, as well. So I just tried to take everything – I mean, it’s easy to say with a smile, but I just tried to take it as it was coming and not getting angry about anything,” she said. “Just really focusing on what I can do with the options I have with the weather today.
“How can I match the weather with my game plan today?”
It must be nice to have options in your game plan to adjust to the conditions. That’s not necessarily something a Mladenovic will ever have.
So her option was to attack it like Ostapenko, full-out going for it. She didn’t do it.
In some respects, Mladenovic tried to play it too safe. It other respects, her opponent sucked her into playing a more finesse type of game, with multiple drop-shot attempts that exposed her inner lack of confidence in her basic game, under the tough conditions.
But in the end, the player with more options took an option out on victory.
A numbers game – big time
The semi-final between Ostapenko and Bacsinszky will be a numerologist’s delight.
It will take place on June 8. That happens to be Ostapenko’s 20th birthday. It also happens to be Bacszinsky’s 28th birthday.