Photo Gallery: Halep and Fernandez team up in Toronto

TORONTO – Simona Halep was looking for a doubles partner to get at least a match in before starting her Rogers Cup quest.

A long break after winning Wimbledon (and, it turns out, an ongoing Achilles issue that curtailed her singles run) meant not much practice.

In the process, Halep was able to give a bucket-list moment to young Canadian Leylah Annie Fernandez.

The two – who won the French Open juniors 11 years apart – went to the match tiebreak before falling to the top team of Nicole Melichar and Kveta Peschke.

But they had some great moments. 

Fernandez was able to turn the page on her nervous Rogers Cup stadium court single debut. The 16-year-old was able to manage only one game against qualifier Marie Bouzkova.

(It turns out that Bouzkova later mowed down three Grand Slam champions: Sloane Stephens, Jelena Ostapenko and on Friday, an injured Halep on her way to a semifinal date against Serena Williams. So Fernandez probably feels a little better about it all now).

Here’s what it looked like.

Afterwards, they had a cute press conference.

Simona soars, Serena swoons in one-sided Wimbledon final

WIMBLEDON – There will be plenty of stories describing how Simona Halep played the match of her life to win her first Wimbledon Saturday.

There will be others that will point to how Serena Williams – faced with making history once more – could not step up to the plate.

Hopefully they’ll mostly be sympathetic. We might not be able to fathom being in that situation. But we know how much Williams wants it.

Maybe too much.

If many fans watch tennis matches through the rose-coloured glasses of their support of one player or the other, the reality in most tennis matches is there are usually two concurrent stories.

Halep played in the zone, almost with blinders on. Only three unforced errors blemished her scorecard.

But Williams allowed her to play that way.

At no point during the 56-minute, 6-2, 6-2 loss did Williams come roaring back to put Halep under championship pressure. It’s a lot easier to be in the zone when your opponent is unable to successfully push you out of it. Halep never had to really see what she was made of on this day.  

Maybe she would have been made of championship stuff regardless. If sort of felt that way at times, didn’t it? But we’ll never know. You know Williams wishes she could have given her that test.

That doesn’t mean Halep doesn’t fully deserve the victory. She did what she had to do on Saturday. She had a brilliant tournament.

That’s just … what happened.

The Wimbledon wish list

Williams

You get the feeling Halep may have thought she’d never win Wimbledon. By now, she believed the slippery footing negatively affected what she considers to be her biggest strength: her movement.

But grass is a tricky mistress. The season is so short, it takes exponentially longer to figure out how to play on it. And there aren’t a lot of coaches out there – not even British ones – who are so well-rounded that they can impart specific grass-court strategy from the get-go. 

This year, Halep figured out a few things. She figured out that maybe what grass took away, it gave back in other areas. And she’s good enough now, and experienced enough, to make those adjustments.

That she already had a Grand Slam title and has been No. 1 helped. No doubt.

Happy moments at the AELTC

Williams
“Oh, hey everybody. Welcome to my new club, the All-England Club. I just joined! It’s awesome in here. Would you like to come in for a spot of tea?”

A woman from the clay-court nation of Romania starts telling stories about how her mother wanted her to make a Wimbledon final. And then she starts talking about her excitement upon realizing that winning the title makes you an (honorary) member of the All-England Club. And then, she gets to meet the Duchess of Cambridge – her favorite of the duchesses. It was just happy feels all around.

Halep has never been a publicly emotional person in the happy sense of the word. She has shown the world plenty of anger on the tennis court – mostly at herself. And she didn’t shed many tears after that final point, as incredulous as she was about what she’d just done.

But oh, that smile.

As much as it radiated, she warmed the whole place. 

The scenes painted a concrete picture of just how this mythical place is in every tennis player’s DNA. Perhaps – above all others – it’s the one they cherish the most if they can win it.

And nothing Williams did, or didn’t do, takes anything away from that.

Note-perfect in defeat

Williams and her marketing team chose this Wimbledon to finally speak out about the nasty situation during last year’s US Open final.

The essay in Harper’s Bazaar is in the August issue, out July 23. It’s online now, nearly 10 months after the incident.

If you haven’t read it, here it is.

It starts with a false premise: that because Williams wasn’t looking at coach Patrick Mouratoglou, she was unfairly penalized. We heard that on the court last September. But of course, that’s not the rule. The violation is on the coach for coaching, not on the player for looking (or not looking). But you can’t penalize the coach.

It’s not an essay that will make anyone change their minds about the incident. That’s already carved in stone. But perhaps it was cathartic for her to finally put it down in words.  

Williams
Last year, Williams was so dismayed at getting the “other” plate that she left it on her chair. This year, she brought it with her.

If there’s one message that rang true, it’s how badly she felt that Osaka had been deprived of the joy of her big triumph. And so, despite what Williams might have been feeling inside about how she handled (or failed to handle) the moment Saturday, she seemed determined to be the most gracious runner-up she could be.

Because she’s a pro. And, clearly, she takes lessons from everything that happens to her. They might not be the lessons that some people want her to learn. But she’s a 37-year-old mother, and she’s learning her life lessons her own way.

A well done do-over

There was no way anything was going to occur Saturday that would have tarnished the moment for Halep in any way. Williams was note-perfect: smiling, gracious, complimentary.  

She smiled for the photos. And unlike last year, she didn’t disdainfully leave her runner-up plate on her chair as she exited Centre Court (which was actually kind of great, but didn’t go over too well).

She was everything you would want her to be.

But Williams did get an opportunity to further the narrative explored in that essay with the final … question posed to her at the press conference.

The only problem was that the woman asking the question got Billie Jean’s comments a little sideways, depending on what source you read.

Williams hit it out of the park anyway.

WTA Rankings Report – Feb. 18, 2019

Despite Doha only being a regular Premier event this year on its biannual rotation with Dubai, it still boasted a spectacular field compared to some of its equivalent events.

That is, until a few of them bowed out with illness. Notable, Karolina bowed out very late (just in time for her sister to get the lucky loser spot and the first-round bye) and Caroline Wozniacki.

In the end, two quality players emerged from the final to contest a cracking good final.

It was full of streaks and ebbs. And even though No. 1 seed Simona Halep won 18 points in a row at one stage, it still wasn’t enough as Elise Mertens took the trophy.

Halep was visibly hampered by blisters. So we’ll see if she’s in good form as she faces Canadian Genie Bouchard in her second-round match in Dubai.

ON THE UPSWING

Simona Halep (ROU): No. 3 ————–> No. 2 (Halep rolls by the idle Sloane Stephens (who isn’t scheduled to return until Indian Wells) into the second spot).

Serena Williams (USA): No. 11 ————–> No. 10 (The idle Williams squeezes back into the top 10 without doing a thing, mostly because of her friend Wozniacki’s absence this week. It’s her first time there since after Wimbledon in 2017).

Elise Mertens (BEL): No. 21 ————–> No. 16 (A big title in Doha).

Bianca Andreescu (CAN): No. 70 ————–> No. 68

Vitalia Diatchenko (RUS): No. 127 ————–> No. 98 (The 28-year-old wins the Shrewsbury ITF with the loss of only one set).

Karolina Muchova (CZE): No. 132 ————–> No. 103 (The 22-year-old with the all-court game is coming along – at a career high and on the cusp of the top 100 after going from the qualifying to the quarters in Doha).

Yanina Wickmayer (BEL): No. 126 ————–> No. 113 (The Shrewsbury final moves her up, but the 29-year-old is having trouble getting back to where she used to be.

ON THE DOWNSWING

Petra Kvitova (CZE): No. 2 ————–> No. 4

Caroline Wozniacki (DEN): No. 10 ————–> No. 14

Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP): No. 15 ————–> No. 19

rankings

Ekaterina Makarova (RUS): No. 66 ————–> No. 70 (The former top-10 player continues to slide).

Marketa Vondrousova (CZE): No. 72 ————–> No. 81

Sorana Cirstea (ROU): No. 92 ————–> No. 108 (Out of the top 100 for the first since May 2016).

Monica Niculescu (ROU): No. 106 ————–> No. 136 (The Romanian, 31, was a rock star in Fed Cup. Unfortunately, that didn’t earn her any ranking points).

Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR): No. 206 ————–> No. 226 (Bondarenko hasn’t played since last year’s US Open).

Carina Witthoeft (GER): No. 185 ————–> No. 227 (Not much of a 24th birthday for the blonde German).

Yingying Duan (CHN): No. 196 ————–> No. 245

Oz Open 2019 – Women’s draw analysis

MELBOURNE, Australia – In theory, the top 11 players on the WTA Tour to start the 2019 season have a shot at leaving Melbourne with the No. 1 ranking.

A few of them are long shots, involving winning the title and having current No. 1 Simona Halep going out early (see the story on the website).

But still, it’s mathematically possible. And so the permutations of Thursday’s draw obviously took on a little more significance for some of those players.

And so, the draw gods determining that No. 1 Halep and No. 16 Serena Williams would be an on-paper fourth-round match makes things interesting – as does the fact that 2017 finalist Venus Williams – unseeded, could be a third-round opponent.

But it is a game of roulette to even try to predict who might get through.

Many of the players only took part in one tournament before the Australian Open. And many players exited early. Some didn’t didn’t even play one.

Some are carrying injuries over from 2018. There have been multiple coaching changes. There are some dangerous floaters.

And the 2018 champion, Caroline Wozniacki, is defending a major for the first time and is in a section where the most in-form player at the moment, Aussie Ashleigh Barty, could be her fourth-round opponent.

The names that floated to the top during the Tour Finals in Singapore are not necessarily those who are coming into the season riding that momentum.

We’re thinking notably of Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens – and even Sloane Stephens, who finished the season beautifully even as she was in the process of splitting up with the coach.

In form, or out?

Here’s how some of the contenders for this year’s women’s singles title are going (to coin the Aussie phrase) leading up to the first major of the season.

[1] Simona Halep: There are questions to be answered about the back issue that scuttled the end of her fantastic 2018 season. There’s the fact that she is without longtime coach Darren Cahill, although he’s never far away. And there’s the fact that she’s played only four matches since mid-August in Cincinnati – including a straight-sets loss to the in-form Ashleigh Barty in her only match leading up to next week.

[2] Angelique Kerber: Kerber made a coaching change in the off-season after a not-overly-friendly breakup with veteran coach Wim Fissette. She went with countryman Rainer Schuettler, who had been working with Vasek Pospisil on the ATP Tour. 

“He knows how it is to being under pressure, to having the emotions on court. He understands my thinking. You know, on court he is also, like, a hard worker,” Kerber said during her pre-tournament press conference Saturday.

The 2016 champion was beaten in her second match in Sydney by Petra Kvitova in a late night, rain-delayed affair. But she got plenty of tennis in at the Hopman Cup exhibition.

[3] Caroline Wozniacki: The 2019 Australian Open is going to be a new experience for Wozniacki, who will be defending a Grand Slam title for the first time in her long career. She’ll also – not insignificantly – be defending 2000 ranking points.  She also made public a new battle – with rheumatoid arthritis.

Wozniacki got two matches in, at Auckland the first week of the season. She was upset in the second one by Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu.

[4] Naomi Osaka: The offseason was a whirlwind for the new darling of women’s tennis – the US Open champion. She signed a number of sponsorship deals (including one announced just Saturday, with an airline). 

She is now, officially, a corporate brand. And her every utterance is lapped up by the women’s tennis media as if it comes wrapped in the wisdom of Socrates. She’s on the cover of TIME this week.  It’s all a lot to process for the rather shy 21-year-old with the anything-but-shy game.  

Osaka got to the semis in Brisbane but was not happy with herself after a 6-2, 6-4 loss to Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine. She had entered Sydney, but didn’t play.

[5] Sloane Stephens: The American finished the season beautifully in Singapore, despite the fact that her team situation was rather uncertain. Gone are longtime coach Kamau Murray as well as traveling coach/hitting partner Othmane Garma. Coach – at least this month – is Sylvester Black. … She comes to Melbourne in question-mark form. Stephens dropped her opener in Brisbane to Johanna Konta. She overcame a first-set bagel to defeat qualifier Ekaterina Alexandrova in a third-set tiebreak. Then, against the feisty Yulia Putintseva, Stephens had the match in hand before losing it 6-0 in the third set.

[6] Elina Svitolina: The win at the Tour Finals in Singapore seemed to be a big step up for Svitolina, who is always spoken of as a potential Grand Slam champion. So far, though, she has just three quarterfinals in 25 career Slams – two of them at the French Open. But the third came here in Melbourne a year ago.

analysis

But Svitolina is another player who has juggled coaching changes. As well, she has just one match in 2019 – an opening loss to Aliaksandra Sasnovich in Brisbane. On the plus side, she looks healthier than she did last year.

[7] Karolina Pliskova: The former No. 1 seems to have put together an intriguing and potentially fruitful all-female coaching tag-team combo in former players Conchita Martinez (who’s here in Melbourne) and Rennae Stubbs (who is also here, with myriad media commitments).

Pliskova won Brisbane, winning three three-setters and defeating five very good – if not top-ranked – players to take the title. Her form can be considered pretty good coming in.

[8] Petra Kvitova: The two-time Wimbledon champion tends to struggle with the heat and (sometimes) humidity in Australia. Since reaching the semis in 2012, she has gone past the second round only once. (Of course, she didn’t play it in 2017 after the terrifying home invasion that left her with multiple severed tendons in the fingers of her playing hand.

On Saturday, Kvitova survived (barely) the extreme weather conditions in Sydney to beat Barty in a third-set tiebreak and win the title. That’s a tremendous confidence builder. But it appeared to take everything she had.

Unfortunately, her half of the draw plays Monday at the Australian Open – on what’s expected to be another scorcher. A least, she has an evening match against veteran Slovak Magdalena Rybarikova. She’s 6-1 against Rybarikova, going back to their first pro meeting all the way back in 2007.

Third-round analysis

When the seeds finally meet for a spot that’s sweet in the second week, the tournament really gets going.

[1] Simona Halep vs. [25] Mihaela Buzarnescu – A potential all-Romanian clash although Halep has to get through Kanepi and new titleist Sofia Kenin to get there. You’d expect Venus Williams to oust Buzarnescu in the first round.
[23] Carla Suárez Navarro vs. [16] Serena Williams – A good outcome for Serena, who might have to face Genie Bouchard in the second round.
[10] Daria Kasatkina vs. [18] Garbiñe Muguruza  – Neither of these two are on form. At all. Kasatkina could lose to Bacsinszky in the first round. Muguruza could face Konta or Tomljanovic in the second round. Muguruza beat Suárez Navarro in the first round in Sydney and then withdrew before her match against Kiki Bertens with a GI illness.
[27] Camila Giorgi vs. [7] Karolina Pliskova – We expect this one to happen given the players in that quarter. And it’s a dangerous one for Pliskova.

analysis

[4] Naomi Osaka vs. [28] Hsieh Su-WeiVictoria Azarenka looms in that section, as a potential second-round opponent for Hsieh.
[21] Qiang Wang vs. [13] Anastasija Sevastova – Wang is one of a number of players who made a big splash on the Asian swing last fall. But this is a new year, a new reality. Will she be up to the task?
[12] Elise Mertens vs. [17] Madison Keys – Mertens reached the semifinals here a year ago, in her first main-draw appearance in Melbourne. She doesn’t have much tennis in her in 2019, as she came up against a tough draw in Kiki Bertens in the first round in Melbourne. As for Keys – she’s a question mark. She has a new coach in former Tennys Sandgren associate Jim Madrigal. But she has only two actual tennis matches since last September – none this year so far.
[26] Dominika Cibulkova vs. [4] Elina Svitolina – It feels as though Cibulkova, a former finalist in Melbourne five years ago, has faded from the landscape a bit even if she made a solid return from injury in 2018. She’ll play her 12th Aussie Open woefully short of match play. Her last tournament was Beijing in early October.

analysis

[8] Petra Kvitova vs. [32] Barbora Strycova – A meeting of Fed Cup teammates. But we’ll have to see how Kvitova pulls up physically from her Sydney effort Kvitova has won her last six encounters with Strycova in straight sets. Strycova has a tricky little section to navigate that includes Putintseva in the first round and either Siniakova or Bencic in the second round. Odds are she might not get through.
[24] Lesia Tsurenko vs. [11] Aryna Sabalenka A lot is expected of the hard-hitting Sabalenka, who was defeated by Barty in a tight first-round encounter a year ago (her Aussie Open debut). But she could face the always-dangerous Makarova in the second round. And Tsurenko may have to get through promising American teenager Amanda Anisimova.
[15] Ashleigh Barty vs. [22] Jelena Ostapenko – Barty had a very good Hopman Cup, and an impressive Sydney, where she lost in the final to Kvitova Saturday night. She beat Ostapenko, Halep, Mertens and Bertens in successful to reach the final. You’d expect her to be there. Ostapenko is a trickier proposition. Ostapenko got just two games against Monica Niculescu in her season opener in Shenzhen. In Sydney, she got six against Barty in her opening loss. And she has a dangerous first-round opponent in Maria Sakkari of Greece.
[3] Caroline Wozniacki vs. [30] Maria Sharapova – How often have these two former No. 1s played? Ten times. But not in nearly four years. Sharapova retired down 1-6, 2-4 to Aryna Sabalenka in the quarters in Shenzhen. But she has a draw that might allow her to get into the event if she’s healthy, starting with 22-year-old British qualifier Harriet Dart. If they’re both healthy, they both make it. If.

[5] Sloane Stephens vs. [31] Petra Martic – It looks like a very nice section for Stephens, even if there are some hard hitters in there. But her first match is an intriguing one. She plays against fellow American Taylor Townsend, another former pupil of coach Kamau Murray. They’ve never played.
[20] Anett Kontaveit vs. [9] Kiki Bertens – A tough section that includes solid players Flipkens, Riske, Pavlyuchenkova, Puig and Sasnovich will be a fight to the end. 
[14] Julia Goerges vs. [19] Caroline Garcia – Garcia fell right off the charts in 2018, while Goerges, as she was turning 30, had the best season of her career. But Garcia couldn’t ask for a better draw to ease into 2019 with countrywoman Ponchet in the first round, and either Mattek-Sands or Aussie wild card Hives in the second round. Garcia is 2-0 against Goerges.
[29] Donna Vekic vs. [2] Angelique Kerber – Watch out for Vekic in 2019, as she seems to be coming into her own a little bit. You’d expect these two to get out of this section even if Vekic drew Kristina Mladenovic in the first round. The two met in the second round in Melbourne last year, with Kerber winning routinely. But Vekic likely would give her a better fight this time.

Quarterfinal predictions

Pliskova vs. Serena

Osaka vs. Mertens

Kvitova vs. Barty

Kerber vs. Bertens

First-round matches to watch

Monday: Belinda Bencic vs. Katerina Siniakova. … Amanda Anisimova vs. Monica Niculescu … Jelena Ostapenko vs Maria Sakkari … [30] Maria Sharapova vs. [Q] Harriet Dart … [5] Sloane Stephens vs. Taylor Townsend.

Tuesday: [1] Simona Halep vs. Kaia Kanepi … [25] Mihaela Buzarnescu vs. Venus WIlliams … [10] Daria Kasatkina vs. [PR] Timea Bacsinszky … Laura Siegemund vs. Victoria Azarenka … [Q] Bianca Andreescu vs. [WC] Whitney Osuigwe.

Halep and Cahill end coaching relationship

In a move that definitely comes out of left field, the highly successful coaching-player relationship between world No. 1 Simona Halep and Aussie coach Darren Cahill is over – at least for next year.

Cahill wrote on Instagram that the decision was his.

“After much thought and discussion, and many years with 30 plus weeks on the road away from my family, I’ve decided to take a 12-month break from coaching to be home more for support as our children enter important stages of their lives with the final year of high school, sports and college preparations all becoming more time consuming,” he wrote.

It means that Halep is on a coaching search. And in that, she has plenty of company as so many top players are also picking over the same pool of candidates.

Madison Keys, Genie Bouchard, Angelique Kerber and Jelena Ostapenko are just a few of the better-known names looking for fresh starts with new guidance.

Short break turned the tide

The 26-year-old Romanian had worked with various coaches, including Wim Fissette and Victor Ionita. But it was the arrival of Cahill that eventually paid dividends as she ascended to the very top of the game.

Halep ended 2018 with a back injury, but she also ended it as the year-end WTA No. 1 for the second straight season.

Not that there weren’t bumps in the road.

Notably, Cahill took a break after the Miami tournament in 2017, after Halep lost the third set 6-2 to eventual champion Johanna Konta in the wake of this startlingly honest on-court coaching consult.

It may have been just the wakeup call she needed. And there aren’t many coaches that would walk away from a gig with a top player.

Cahill had seen enough improvement during their time apart that he was ready to return by Madrid, less than two months later.

Reunited in Madrid

 “I just felt that it was like a shock, because I lost the coach. So I have just to improve in this way, because he never had something to complain about my game and about the work that I do, because I’m working. But just with my attitude. I knew that is the only one thing that I have to change to have him back.” Halep said at the French Open.

“But just with my attitude. I knew that is the only one thing that I have to change to have him back. So I work hard, and I changed.” 

It didn’t pay off right away. Halep had disappointments in the 2017 French Open final against Jelena Ostapenko, and again at the 2018 Australian Open against Caroline Wozniacki.

That elusive first Grand Slam title was finally earned in Paris this spring. And no doubt it’s the first of many.

But in 2019, Halep will have to take the next steps in her career without Cahill.

Tribute to Halep

Cahill
After more than three years together, Halep and Cahill finally broke through for that first Grand Slam title in Paris this year. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

“Her understanding, personality, work ethic, generosity and professionalism made it a pleasure to stand by her side as her coach. She’s a young woman of total class and someone I respect greatly which is something more important than any result achieved,” Cahill said.

“Basically, I had the dream job and I want to thank her for making it that way, and the opportunity to work with someone so talented and dedicated.”

Cahill remains with ESPN as an analyst, and will be at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open for the network.

WTA Tour says farewell to Singapore (photos)

The WTA moved its season-ending event – the crown-jewel event of its season, and its biggest revenue generator – to Asia for the first time in 2014.

It was clearly a “follow the money” move, as so many decisions by the women’s tennis association have been in recent years.

At the time, the WTA said it had received “expressions of interest” from 43 cities. Singapore was chosen over finalists Tianjin (China), Monterrey (Mexico) and Kazan (Russia).

Then-CEO Stacey Allaster said the event represented 35-40 percent of the tour’s net operating revenues. And that the deal was worth more than the $14 million US a year it generated during the three-year stint in Istanbul.

The prize money for the first year in 2014 was upped to $6.5 million, as Allaster said it would rise more from there over the length of the deal.

That didn’t really happen, to any significant extent. It was raised to $7 million in 2015 – and remained at that level for the rest of the Singapore stay.

farewell

(2010: Doha; 2011-13: Istanbul; 2014-18: Singapore; 2019- : Shenzhen)

The offer from Shenzhen, where the tournament will move next year, will double the prize money to $14 million.

Photos from 2014

It was a happier, more innocent time. 🙂

We covered the inaugural event in 2014, which seemed to create a fair amount of engagement in the city and was spectacularly well put on by the organizers.

(The players were: Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Ana Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki and, in her career-making 2014 season finale, Genie Bouchard. There was a significant amount of star power for this one, with some of the most high-profile and popular players in recent years).

Here are some of the pics from that year.

Yes, there are a lot of photos of Bouchard. That was the main reason for being there, as the lone Canadian journalist. But there also are photos of the scenes, the other players and the activities.

Scenes:

Players:

In the press room:

Genie Bouchard – with Halep, Williams and Ivanovic:

The attendance was impressive – announced at 129,000 for the first year. That was a bit misleading, as the WTA’s report at the time indicates that number was for fans attracted “to the Singapore Sports Hub during the 10 days of tennis, entertainment and business.”

The actual match attendance was put at “more than 93,000” through 14 sessions, including three reserved for the “Rising Stars” event featured the first couple of years. That’s an average of 6,642 per session, with the final being the last of four sellouts, at 9,986 fans.

Attendance numbers well-spun

Attendance for the second edition in 2015 was announced at 130,000, but over 18 sessions. While it was difficult to judge the fullness of the stands with the dark lighting, sources on site indicated that they weren’t nearly as full as the first year. 

That’s not unusual, as the first year was impressive. And in any event of this nature, the novelty is more likely than not to  wear off by Year 2 in an area of the planet without any sort of established tennis tradition.

farewell

For 2016, the WTA Tour didn’t announce any official attendance figure. 

In 2017, the WTA announced attendance as 133,000, over only 11 sessions with no legends, and the straight-elimination doubles draw.  By those numbers, the event would have had 11 sellouts, plus another 23,000 fans attending the experience. Might be a little … optimistic.

This year, there’s been no number announced although, as we laid out here, there were plenty of good seats available for every session.

WTA CEO Steve Simon, in his season-ending press conference last week, said he expected a record.

“I think that you can see that through this year we will have record attendance again. I believe it will exceed last year’s 133,000 people. You have seen it the first few nights at the event. You have seen it in the evolution of the fans here,” Simon said.

Law of diminishing returns

Perhaps the lesson to be learned from Singapore is that a five-year stay helps create, as Allaster said when the venue was announced, financial stability. But in a country without an established tennis fan base – the type of fan base you need to fill an arena for a week or more – it’s a challenge to keep an event growing.

The players who would attract the less-than-diehard tennis fans – notably, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova – have not been annual attendees.

Williams played only once in Singapore – the first year in 2014, when she defeated Halep in the final.

farewell

Sharapova qualified in 2014 (exiting after the pool stage) and 2015 (undefeated in the round robin, but out in the semifinals to Kvitova). But she hasn’t played since.

The challenge with the new 10-year commitment in Shenzhen, China will be the same – except double.

Shenzhen has double the population base to draw from. And it’s also near several other large population hubs. And it does have somewhat more of a tennis tradition with annual WTA and ATP Tour events held there.

Halep does the double in Shenzhen

“The largest and most significant WTA Finals deal in the 45 years since the WTA was founded and promises to take the event to a spectacular new level,” Simon said when the deal was announced.

A 10-year commitment

The prize-money pool will double, to $14 million in 2019.

The deal, according to Sports Business Journal, is reportedly worth close to … $1 billion. That’s $100 million a year, or more than seven times the reported value of the deal in Istanbul five years ago even though the prize money is “only” doubled.

Simon told the New York Times the deal was actually worth in excess of that figure. But that number includes the reported $450 million to be spent on the new indoor arena to be built, which the WTA won’t actually own, “and other real-estate elements”. Simon also said that the share of the WTA’s total revenues generated by the event is now less than that 35-40 per cent figure stated a few years ago by Allaster.

It’s a number that stretches credulity, on the face of it. Let’s just say it’s right up there with he WTA’s $525 million, 10-year live media rights and production deal with beIN and Perform, and the 25-year, $3 billion deal between the ITF and the Kosmos Group for the “new” Davis Cup.

(After the first two years of the five-year deal with beIN, the rights in the U.S. have switched over to the Tennis Channel for 2019).

The new arena in Shenzhen won’t be ready in time for the inaugural edition in 2019.

Farewell Singapore, hello Shenzhen

The main priority, though, is that the WTA be able to create a lasting, significant tennis tradition in new its home.

The WTA couldn’t confirm that the annual WTA stop in Shenzhen, which takes place just two months after the Tour Finals, would survive. So it may have to find another home in Asia (or Australia, for that matter) for a tournament amidst a tricky time within the game.

The ATP Tour is planning a team event beginning in 2020. And that tournament looks to taking place in several venues where there are currently joint WTA/ATP events. Among the possibilities are Perth (where the Hopman Cup is in danger). Also being considered are Brisbane (well-attended by the top WTA players) and Sydney, the week before the Australian Open.

Shenzhen is so far away from North America and Europe that it’s not going to be able to count on hordes of women’s tennis fans making the long, expensive trip. So it’s going to have to find its market around that part of China. That was, of course, also true in Singapore.

There are enough people in the area; that’s for sure. The challenge will be get them to the event, and keep them coming.

Simona Halep out of Singapore

Less than 24 hours after leaving Moscow to fly to Singapore, Simona Halep is officially out of the World Tour Finals.

The herniated disc that scuttled the last six weeks of the Romanian’s season, including the Asian swing, simply will not allow her to complete.

It is an announcement that catches no one by surprise. But it’s unfortunate for the WTA’s crown jewel event that its No. 1 player will not be taking part.

With Halep out, Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands will make her singles debut in Singapore.

Bertens needed to make the semifinals this week at the WTA Tour event in Moscow to qualify on her own merit. But she lost in three sets to Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the second round Wednesday, in her first match. And so the eighth and final spot went to Karolina Pliskova.

Pliskova also lost her first match in Moscow Thursday, rather more expeditiously. Qualifier Vera Zvonareva thrashed her 6-1, 6-2.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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On my way to the #WTAFinals, can’t wait to be back in #VisitSingapore again. Thank you @TurkishAirlines for getting me there safely and smoothly!

A post shared by Simona Halep (@simonahalep) on

 Final field set with Kerber at the top

The final eight (subject to any other bumps and bruises) will now be as follows. Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber will be No. 1. She’ll be followed by US Open champion Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova, Australian Open Caroline Wozniacki, Sloane Stephens, Pliskova, Elina Svitolina and Bertens.

The event begins Sunday.

Halep out of Moscow before she begins

Here’s the official (and comprehensively complete) press-release quote from Halep.

“Unfortunately, after much discussion with my team and doctors, I have made the decision to withdraw from the WTA Finals in Singapore. “I wanted to finish 2018 on a high after such an incredible year, but sadly my back injury hasn’t healed the way we hoped it would and I need to put my long-term health first,” she said.

“I’m sad I won’t be able to play the fifth and final edition here in Singapore, but I’m confident this is the right decision and will do everything I can to be back fighting for my place at the WTA Finals next year. Singapore is a special city and I’m sure the fans will enjoy seeing some fantastic women’s tennis this week.”

Bertens reached Singapore in doubles a year ago, with Johanna Larsson of Sweden. They were the No. 8 seeds. In the rapid-fire eight-team knockout format that replaced the round-robin format implemented earlier in the Singapore stay, they reached the final before losing to Andrea Sestini Hlavackova and Timea Babos.

Alternates also set

As of now, subject to any more withdrawals, the two alternates would be Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia.

Sevastova is still completing in Moscow this week. The No. 5 seed is to play Zvonareva in the quarterfinals Thursday afternoon. If she wins that match, she would ease past Sabalenka in the points race and become the No. 1 alternate.

The rules for the WTA Tour Finals, updated Sept. 18, are fairly strict in terms of players who qualify having to attend and/or play.

There are no provisions in the rules for being excused because of injury, with a $125,000 fine assessed (see page 2 of the rulebook section).

But that fine is waived if the player fulfils all the mandatory media commitments. So you can understand why Halep would at least travel to Singapore, rather than have to try to schedule off-site makeup commitments before next year’s event that would be at a location the WTA Tour decides, and at the player’s own expense.

Halep out of Moscow before she begins

It was, on the face of it, extremely optimistic that Simona Halep would be able to play in Moscow this week.

After a short period of treatment and rehab for the herniated disc that scuttled her Asian swing, the plan was to change things up before the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore.

Halep had been eliminated in the pool portion of the year-end final the last three years. So why not try something different? She wanted to get some match play in closer to the event.

But in the end, Halep’s back was still causing her pain. And so after traveling to Moscow over the weekend, she announced her withdrawal Tuesday.

“I hope first to be able to play here because I really want to, because I’ve been here already for three, four days, getting ready for this tournament. I have great memories and I would really love to play here,” Halep said in a conference call Tuesday.

“But if I’m not able to play here then I’m very doubtful that I’ll be able to play Singapore because it’s very fast, so I don’t know now. But for sure I’ll take a decision for my health first.”

(More from Halep’s call here).

After a first-round bye, the Romanian would have played Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round. Lucky loser Valentini Grammatikopoulou of Greece replaces her.

The immediate question, of course, is whether Halep will even try to play in Singapore next week.

From what she said during the call, that seems questionable, at best.

If Halep can’t go, it’s a bit of an anticlimactic end to a great season. Regardless, Halep will finish as the year-end No. 1, albeit with just three titles – in Shenzhen, Montreal and her maiden Grand Slam title in Paris.

And in that case, the final-week qualifying drama for Singapore would be moot.

Alternates on high alert

The three remaining contenders for two spots – Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova and Kiki Bertens – would all make the final eight.

Since the latter two had to make fairly deep runs in their tournaments this week to make it as it stands – only to fly halfway across the world immediately afterwards – no doubt they are awaiting an official announcement.

Bertens and Pliskova play their second-round matches in Moscow Wednesday.

Maneuvering and scrambling for final Singapore slots

Even if Halep does give it a go, the player left out of the running would still have to travel there as an alternate. But it would take the incentive out of playing this week.

If the Romanian does shut down her season, Elise Mertens of Belgium would be the second alternate. She squeezed past Anastasija Sevastova by five ranking points in the new standings Monday.

Mertens, who reportedly is on a coaching trial with Aussie David Taylor, also appears to be far from healthy.

Coaching trials, Part LXV: Konta and Zavialoff

She retired in her quarterfinal match against Su-Wei Hsieh in Tianjin with an arm issue. And on Tuesday in Moscow, Mertens lost in straight sets to Johanna Konta.

Konta is on a coaching trial of her own with Dimitri Zavialoff.

(Photo from Simona Halep’s Twitter feed)

Elbows, wrists, back – it’s all happening

No body part is being spared in the final month of the WTA and ATP Tour seasons.

Within 24 hours, three top players have been affected – by three different areas.

For David Goffin, it’s bad enough that he has ended his season.

And No. 1 Simona Halep might not be far behind.

Goffin, a Belgian would have been the star attraction in the Antwerp ATP tournament.

But his right elbow injury has or will cost him Tokyo, Shanghai, Antwerp, Basel and Paris as he contemplated a late run to quality for the ATP Tour finals.

Goffin stands 13th in the live rankings for London. But with two Masters 1000s and two 500s still on his schedule, he had to think he’d have a shot, if healthy.

The diagnosis is a bone bruise. Goffin wrote on social media that it would take at least a month to heal. And so he has to call it a year.

That’s going to deal a blow to Goffin’s ranking, as he had been defending titles in Shenzhen and Tokyo, Basel, Paris and the final at the ATP Tour finals. He will surely drop out of the top 20.

It’s not the only bum elbow to emerge this week.

Earlier this week, during his first-round match, Canadian Milos Raonic had some treatment in the left elbow area. Although he has gone on to win his first two matches in Tokyo leaning more heavily on his perfectly adequate slice backhand.

elbow
Raonic, who pulled out of a public practice with Stan Wawrinka the Sunday before Tokyo started, has gotten through two rounds. But he’s on elbow watch.

Earlier this year, it was a bad elbow that compromised the first half of Nick Kyrgios’s season.

Ostapenko wrist since before Seoul

For Jelena Ostapenko, a left elbow issue contributed to an embarrassing double bagel at the hands of Qiang Wang in Beijing Tuesday.

It was the first 6-0, 6-0 drubbing the 21-year-old Latvian has ever suffered – even going back to her junior days at the ITF level.

At 0-6, 0-5, having signalled she needed the trainer on the previous changeover, Ostapenko had some treatment on the elbow before Wang readied to serve for the match. It was, obviously, much too late by then.

elbow
Ostapenko came on court with her left wrist taped. It didn’t appear, outwardly to affect the power of her shots. But it’s an injury that has been getting worse through the Asian swing.

The elbow would not have physically affected the serve and the forehand, both just as problematic in a fairly disastrous outcome. But it would have been on her mind. 

Ostapenko said afterwards that she started feeling it back home in Latvia, the week before the tournament in Seoul two weeks ago. The original diagnosis was inflammation, and Ostapenko has been on “very strong painkillers”.

She continued to play, through, through Seoul and a first-round singles loss and two doubles matches in Wuhan, and then first-round win in Beijing over Magdalena Rybarikova.

“I feel it already since a couple of weeks. I thought it was going to be better. Unfortunately today in the warmup, I already started to feel it … After Seoul it got much worse. Unfortunately now I’m feeling it a lot. I couldn’t really play my game because of my wrist also.” Ostapenko told the media in Beijing.

She came into the press conference with a brace on her left arm.

“I thought maybe during the match, when I get warm, it will be better. And I was trying to play until the last point because I really don’t like those retirements during the match,” she added. “Once you go on court, you probably have to complete the match.”

On the hopeful side, Ostapenko has not yet officially withdrawn from a planned participation in the Hong Kong tournament next week.

The list of players who have been compromised by wrist injuries over the last few years need not be reiterated here.

Back woes sideline Halep

For Simona Halep, the back issue that first flared up in Wuhan went from muscle to bone and made it impossible for her to continue during her first-round match against qualifier Ons Jabeur in Beijing.

After losing the first set 6-1, she had to stop.

“The muscle is better, the muscle of the back. But now I started to feel (Saturday) in the bones. All body was really contracted. I couldn’t play,” Halep told the Beijing media after the retirement. 

She said she felt it in the practice before the match, and from the get-go in the match.

And when the Romanian returned home to have an MRI, the news wasn’t great.

Halep announced she has a herniated disc. 

Halep had no more tournaments scheduled before the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore.

But she has less than three weeks to heal up, and make another trip down to Asia to try to compete. It seems optimistic, at best.

Halep hasn’t won a match since defeating Aryna Sabalenka in the Cincinnati semifinal in mid-August.

She had a great run on the US Open leadup, winning Montreal and reaching that Cincinnati final. But she became the first No. 1 to lose in the first round during the Open era, falling to Kaia Kanepi.

Wimbledon ’18: Women’s singles draw analysis

WIMBLEDON – How to even begin to project a possible champion on the women’s side, when four of the top eight seeds have yet to even reach a Wimbledon quarterfinal in their careers?

That’s why predictions are a fool’s game, although it can be fun to be wrong as long as you can laugh at yourself, and weren’t foolish enough to wager on the outcome.

The only two former Wimbledon champions among the two eight are reigning queen Garbiñe Muguruza and No. 8 seed Petra Kvitova, who won it twice. They are also the only two to even reach the final.

One player (No. 1 Simona Halep) made a semifinal. Caroline Wozniacki, Elina Svitolina and Caroline Garcia have never gone past the fourth round. Sloane Stephens has made one quarterfinal, and big-serving Karolina Pliskova has lost in the second round five straight years.

Meanwhile, there are three former champions (Venus, Serena and Maria Sharapova) and three former finalists (Angelique Kerber, Genie Bouchard, Vera Zvonareva) outside that group.

Jelena Ostapenko, Victoria Azarenka, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Samantha Stosur all have Grand Slam titles on their resumés.

So what to make of it? 

Let’s dive in.

Potential third-round matchups

With Serena Williams, Sharapova and others seeded in the 20s, the big-time clashes will start early.

*[1] Simona Halep vs. [30] Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
*[15] Elise Mertens  vs. [22] Johanna Konta
*[12] Jelena Ostapenko vs. [24] Maria Sharapova 
[8] Petra Kvitova vs. [26] Daria Gavrilova

*[3] Garbiñe Muguruza vs. [26] Anett Kontaveit
*[14] Daria Kasatkina vs. [17] Ashleigh Barty
[11] Angelique Kerber vs. [18] Naomi Osaka
[6] Caroline Garcia vs. [27] Carla Suárez Navarro

*[7] Karolina Pliskova vs. [29] Mihaela Buzarnescu
*[9] Venus Williams vs. [20] Kiki Bertens
*[13] Julia Goerges vs. [23] Barbora Strycova
[4] Sloane Stephens vs. [31] Shuai Zhang

*[5] Elina Svitolina vs. [25] Serena Williams
*[10] Madison Keys vs. [19] Magdalena Rybarikova
[16] Coco Vandeweghe vs. [21] Anastasia Sevastova
*[2] Caroline Wozniacki vs. [32] Agnieszka Radwanska

In 11 of those 16 matchups, the lower seed has at least a decent chance to pull off the upset (those with asterisks).

That, of course, assumes all of them go according to form and make their seeding through the first two rounds.

Potential quarterfinals

[1] Simona Halep vs. [8] Petra Kvitova (or Sharapova)
[3] Garbiñe Muguruza (or Barty) vs. [6] Caroline Garcia (or Kerber)
[4] Sloane Stephens vs. [7] Karolina Pliskova (or Azarenka, or Venus)
[2] Caroline Wozniacki (or Radwanska, or Vandeweghe) vs. [5] Elina Svitolina (or Serena, or Keys)

See? There’s just no way

First-round matchups to watch

[12] Angelique Kerber (GER) vs. [Q] Vera Zvonareva (RUS)

These two are only a little more than three years apart, and both are former Wimbledon finalists. But surprisingly enough, they have never met.

Zvonareva had been off the Tour for awhile, as she married and had a baby. And that coincided with the period where Kerber rose to the top of the game. But still, it wasn’t as though Kerber was playing low-level ITFs when Zvonareva was around.

This will be the 2010 finalist’s first Wimbledon in four years.

[Q] Genie Bouchard (CAN) vs. [WC] Gabriella Taylor (GBR)

After toughing out three victories as she took part in qualifying for the first time, Bouchard ended up with a very kind draw for her first-round match.

Taylor, a 20-year-old ranked No. 182, won her first two matches on grass this season in Surbiton. She defeated countrywoman Heather Watson and Hungary’s Fanny Stollar back to back. Since then, she has lost three consecutive first-rounders.

Taylor defeated Bouchard’s countrywoman, Katherine Sebov, in the first round of the Wimbledon juniors in 2014. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

She played the junior Wimbledon event three times, and the women’s qualifying event four times. But this will be Taylor’s first Grand Slam main draw – of any kind.

[18] Naomi Osaka (JPN) vs. Monica Niculescu (ROU)

Niculescu, 30, has one fourth-round effort at Wimbledon on her resumé. That was 2015, and it’s one only two occasions where she has made the second week of a Grand Slam (the other was the US Open in 2011).

Her iconoclastic, funky game of slices and net rushes could frustrate the hard-hitting Osaka on grass. Or the Japanese player could just swipe it away. Either way, it will be fascinating to watch.

analysis

Niculescu’s problem is that she has very little play since Miami, and only one grass-court match, this week at an ITF event in Southsea.

Osaka’s problem may be an abdominal injury. She played Nottingham and Birmingham, but retired in her second-round match there against Dalila Jakupovic.

[6] Caroline Garcia (FRA) vs. Belinda Bencic (SUI)

Bencic is still only 21. But doesn’t it seems as though she’s already lived four tennis lifetimes?

The former No. 7 clawed her way back to a decent ranking when she returned from injury in September of 2017. In fact, she won 15 straight matches (with the loss of only one set) at the 125K and ITF level to close out the season.

And then she went to Hopman Cup and defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Osaka and Coco Vandeweghe (and all four of her mixed doubles matches with her scrub partner Roger Federer).

But since then, she’s not won two matches in a row. And she retired early in the second set of her last match, against a 25-year-old ranked No. 281.

We spotted Bencic out at the qualifying supporting her friend Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine, so she’s still the same fabulous person she ever was.

Garcia has never done particularly well at Wimbledon, even though she’s such a great athlete you’d think she could do well on any surface. So it’s an opportunity for both.

[10] Madison Keys (USA) vs. Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS)

These two are good pals, both having spent time training down in Boca Raton, Fla. They teamed up for doubles at the Australian Open a couple of years ago. And Keys has even played mixed doubles at Wimbledon with Tomljanovic’s boyfriend, Nick Kyrgios.

analysis

It’s what Mary Carillo would call “Big Babe Tennis”, with both hitting hard, and both actually being able to serve.

Tomljanovic is slowly getting her big serve back after shoulder surgery. But that’s a tough first-rounder for both.

The Serena factor

After all that discussion and debate, Serena Williams ended up seeded No. 25.

That means that in her first Wimbledon in two years, she cannot meet any of the top eight seeds until the third round.

But as previously discussed, there are plenty of trap doors in the draw before then – some of them more dangerous than many of the top eight.

In this case, the first round is an “ease your way in” one against Dutch qualifier Arantxa Rus. But the rest of Serena’s section isn’t half bad, with the very vulnerable Elina Svitolina her potential third-round opponent.

After that, she could be looking at Keys in the fourth round. But that’s if she gets there. Williams developed a pectoral muscle injury at the French Open, doing double-duty in singles and doubles despite not having played in two months.

Venus and Serena are not playing doubles at Wimbledon.