Friday, 18 October 2013

WTA Championships or Serena Benefit ?

The 2013 season finishes for the top women players with the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships beginning on 22 October.  The field is missing Maria Sharapova through injury, allowing 9th ranked Angelique Kerber to take her place in the field of 8 for the second successive year.

In fact the only new face from the 2012 draw is the "comeback kid", Serbia's Jelena Jankovic, who has qualified 7th (8th had Sharapova competed).
Serena Williams qualified third for the event last year and cleaned up the field in no uncertain manner.  This year she has dominated, and will enter as the top qualifier by a street, safe in the knowledge that she will hold the number one ranking irrespective of results in Istanbul.

How the two groups are shaped will determine to a large extent predictions for who might be the second finalist because only someone who has just entered this cosmos would not select Serena Williams to appear in the final and in the same breath claim an ounce of sanity.

Let's consider the cold facts.  Only one player in the Istanbul field has beaten Serena in 2013 and Vika Azarenka has done the job twice.  The first time was the Doha final coming on the back of Azarenka's second Aus Open triumph.  The second meeting between the pair this year - the Rome final - (all their clashes in 2013 have been for titles) saw Serena win in straight as she dominated the clay season en route to her second Roland Garros crown.
Vika impressed on hard courts approaching the US Open winning another three set thriller in Cincinnati.  However it was to be Serena levelling the ledger for 2013 by taking out the US Open appropriately in three sets over the only woman on the planet to regularly trouble her on a tennis court.  It has taken about a dozen matches of constant pain of failure against Williams to reach this level of competitiveness, so props to the screamer from Belarus.

Since the US Open Vika has found it difficult, losing her only two matches, whereas Serena has won yet another title in her only outing.  Momentum is going to have to shift next week in order for Azarenka to win overall, but it would be foolish to think that anyone else has a better chance of challenging Serena.

Against Aga Radwanska Serena has won all 7 times including the three semi finals this year, most recently in Beijing.

Li Na beat Serena in 2008 but failed in her other 9 attempts, three of those this year including a semi final thrashing at Flushing Meadows.

Petra Kvitova has lost all her four matches to Serena, although their 2013 contest in Doha was a tight 3 setter.

All six encounters with Sara Errani have seen Serena successful, among those 2013 clay court semi wins in Madrid and significantly Roland Garros.

Bucking the trend somewhat Jelena Jankovic was 4-4 in career meetings with Serena after defeating her in Rome 2010.  However Serena has won the past three, including 2 finals in 2013, the latter being the Beijing title.

Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber have only played three times, the first way back in 2007.  Kerber lost that but won the next one which was Cincinnati last year.  Serena balanced the books by winning a round robin match at the year end championships, but there is no 2013 head to head form line here.

Based on what we have seen, and not knowing how the two groups will fall, I rate Azarenka as the prime threat to Serena at the WTA Championships, but more realistically the favourite to take the second finalist position.  I think that Jankovic and possibly Radwanska are playing well enough to push through to the semis of the event.