WTA’s second tier out to prove they’re not broken toys
Zhuhai plays host to the second edition of the WTA Elite Trophy comprising players that ended the 2016 regular season ranked just outside of the top 8 positions in the world.
Venus Williams lifted the inaugural WTA Elite trophy with victory in the final over Karolina Pliskova. However, neither Williams nor Pliskova will be in Zhuhai this year to renew their rivalry.
Williams would qualify as the 14th ranked player in the world, but there has been a noticeable drop in her level and she has decided not to travel to Zhuhai this year.
On the other hand Pliskova is one of 3 players from the 2015 edition that has graduated to the top 8 player WTA Tour Finals in Singapore, alongside fellow debutant Madison Keys as well as the wily Svetlana Kuznetsova, who found a hot streak in the final weeks to grab the last qualifying position at the top tier event.
Johanna Konta lost out to Kuznetsova by 35 ranking points, and had an untimely injury not thwarted her from competing the final weeks of the season she definitely would have appeared last week in Singapore.
3 players will make their second appearance in Zhuhai – 2015 semi finalists Elina Svitolina and Roberta Vinci, and Carla Suarez Navarro who lost at the round robin stage.
The only player to be demoted to the second tier Zhuhai tournament is Petra Kvitova having had an ongoing battle for form in 2016. The Czech, who will feature for her country the weekend after in the Fed Cup final, has really improved in the past couple of months and heads into Zhuhai with the best form of any player following a dominant romp to the title in Wuhan and a runner up finish in Luxembourg.
Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki called in their absence this week allowing the lower ranked Timea Bacsinszky, Elena Vesnina, Sam Stosur, Barbora Strycova, Kiki Bertens and Caroline Garcia to qualify directly to the Elite Trophy. Vesnina and Garcia were also in Singapore last week appearing in the doubles event, of which Vesnina was a winner alongside Ekaterina Makarova.
There is one final position to make up the numbers and that is given to a Chinese wild card – essential to boost local interest. Whilst it devalues the event to give a wild card to a player that did not gain sufficient ranking points, the recipient is the not entirely undeserving Shuai Zhang ranked 28 in the world.
World number 25 Timea Babos is waiting in the wings as an alternate should any player withdraw.
The problem with this second tier event is that it features a number of players that are out of form and that played their best tennis many months ago.
Take the example of Timea Bacsinszky. The Swiss player had a great clay season but has won none of her indoor matches this year and won only 1 match anywhere since the US Open. Bacsinszky is not an isolated case as there is reason to say something negative about all of those in contention.
When studying the form of players in the draw it read like a list of faulty toys – not at the front of the shelf, not good enough to feature with the shiny bright things in Singapore.
A group of players either out of form or with serious doubts about their potential success.
I don’t intend on being cynical about this event and actually view Zhuhai with intrigue. As Pliskova and Keys show it can be a stepping stone to bigger and better things, and for others such as Kuznetsova potentially a key to once again finding your better self.
From Wikipedia – “The singles event features twelve players in a round robin event, split into four groups of three. Over the first four days of competition, each player meets the other two players in her group, with the winner in each group advancing to the semifinal. The winners of each semifinal meet in the championship match.”
After the group stages the 4 qualifying players are ranked based on their performance in the group stage.
Group A (Azalea Group) – Konta, Stosur and Garcia
Johanna Konta leads the contenders in Group A. The Australian born, Spanish dwelling Brit heads into this event as an injury doubt having not played since withdrawing from Hong Kong with an abdominal strain, but considering she travelled to Singapore it should be expected that she is ready to go. Konta has yet to play either Sam Stosur or Caroline Garcia and it will be interesting to see how she starts in Zhuhai.
Stosur has played very poorly of late with a defeat to Nao Hibino in her last outing highlighting struggles that go beyond a couple of losses to the traditionally problematic match up against the flat hitting Shuai Zhang.
Garcia and Stosur have also yet to play each other. Garcia has the best indoor stats of all the players in this group but I don’t trust her statistics given that her best results have been compiled against weaker competition. An additional disadvantage for Garcia may be that she went deep in Singapore last week playing doubles, subsequently not enjoying the competitive break that most participants in Wuhan enjoyed this week.
Verdict – Consistent Konta to win group against out of form Stosur and over rated Garcia
Group B (Camellia Group) – Suarez Navarro, Bacsinszky and Zhang
The Camellia group is headlined by 2015 competitor Carla Suarez Navarro. However, she is another player coming into this event in a weakened physical condition having retired in Moscow.
If the fitness of Suarez Navarro holds up she will fancy her chances against a pair of opponents in Bacsinszky and Zhang that the Spaniard leads in career head to head meetings. She will have to overcome recent form struggles but finds solace in a pair of opponents unaccustomed to indoor tennis in 2016.
Bacsisnszky lost all 3 of her indoor matches, and Zhang did not play one competitive indoor match. Zhang has a win over Bacsinszky on her CV and could challenge Suarez Navarro should her condition continue to be an issue.
Verdict – CSN to grind through favourable draw on paper
Group C (Peony Group) – Kvitova, Vinci and Strycova
Perhaps the most intriguing Zhuhai Group is fronted by Petra Kvitova. The Czech has great form including winning Wuhan in indoor conditions not too dissimilar to Zhuhai.
Roberta Vinci, a semi finalist last year will prove a tricky opponent but Barbora Strycova will likely give feeble opposition to her compatriot.
Vinci made the semi final last year and shares the H2H with Kvitova. However, the form of Kvitova will swing this Round Robin in her favour.
Verdict – Kvitova to continue recent results as group winner
Group D (Rose Group) – Svitolina, Vesnina and Bertens
Elina Svitolina relishes this time of season and carries form second only to Petra Kvitova into this event. The Ukrainian will fancy her chances of repeating her semi final performance of 2015, but it might not be straightforward.
Elena Vesnina leads the H2H 2/1 with Svitolina, but she won the doubles in Singapore so was busy last week and her recent singles performances have been poor.
Bertens will be dangerous and she will typically be either brilliant or woeful. I fancy the steady Svitolina to guide her way to the semis.
Verdict – Svitolina to repeat 2015 semi final
It’s hard to plump for a winner given the format, as a the draw for the semi finals is comprised based not only on wins and losses but by sets won and lost, and games won and lost.
See below a table of the participants and their H2H information.
Based on Overall H2H and form Kvitova is a rightful favourite at 3.25 with Stan James. The only player she has a negative H2H against is Timea Bacsinszky and I don’t predict she will make it beyond the group stage.