By Andrew Jones
(October 21, 2013) In a perfect world, the tournament would be named “The Serena Williams Year End Coronation Exhibition.” But out of respect to the seven other ladies in attendance, the WTA Championships will conclude its lovely three year relationship with the city of Istanbul starting Tuesday.
The famous Turkish city has been a terrific host for the WTA Championships, a major upgrade from past hosts like Los Angeles, Berlin, and Madrid after the tour decided to leave New York City’s Madison Square Garden a decade ago. But with the Chairman and CEO Stacey Allaster moving its championships to Asia (and virtually every other tournament it seems nowadays) to Singapore for next year, it will be a bittersweet tournament for the locals who have given the year end finale a great temporary home.
And it was clearly the home for the world No. 1 last year with her dominance to win her second year-end championships without dropping a set, and Williams the younger is projected by most to do the same. However, with Victoria Azarenka back after an ugly Asia swing for her with ailments and illness all over, the always solid Agniezska Radwanska, and the reemerging force that is Petra Kvitova still here to give it their all in the last tournament of the year, Williams will still have to play well enough to close a banner 2013.
Three of those four players mentioned there are in the same group, with it fittingly called the red group as an in-form Angelique Kerber rounds out their formidable foursome. Like Kvitova, Kerber has had a good fall campaign after a mostly terrible season and has done well to surge into the last spot ahead of Caroline Wozniacki and Sloane Stephens, who are alternatives. And she beat Radwanska, who was flat after winning Seoul the week prior, in the Toray Pan Pacific Open (Tokyo) before Radwanska returned the favor on her friend at the China Open (Beijing) in the instant rematch. Kerber also played Kvitova in Tokyo in the final, and the quality all-lefty battle went to the Czech, as both women have located needed momentum for 2014.
Still, all three women are playing for second place in the group, as an even fogged challenge, easily frustrated, and slightly ailed Williams was still good enough to win the China Open going away. With her loving indoors too, like her old red group members, taking a set off Serena in the group stages and the whole week in general is going to be a difficult task.
It’s a scenario that the four members in the white group thankfully don’t have to deal with for their own relief, as Azarenka headlines a quartet not as formidable as their red counterparts. The world number two’s own problems since that dramatic US Open final with Serena will either be vanished or still apparent when she plays the championships’ opening match against the always game Sara Errani, who has done quite well to make the last eight for a second consecutive year. The former doubles and best friend duo of Li Na and Jelena Jankovic complete the group and will feel they have a strong chance to make the semifinals in Istanbul.
Not to be forgotten are the final four teams in doubles, with the aforementioned Errani and Roberta Vinci set to close out their latest No. 1 year in style. But they will face stern challenges from the superb Asian duo of Peng Shuai and Su-Wei Hsieh, who have grown into a world class team, the accomplished veteran pair of Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik, and the talented, eclectic Russian combination of Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina.
In a perfect world, this tournament would be called “The Serena Williams Year End Coronation Exhibition.” But that would be boring and thankfully we don’t live in a perfect world. But the year-end championships giving Istanbul and the 2013 season the perfect sendoff would be a perfect week, regardless of whoever wins.
RED GROUP (seed in parentheses)
(1) Serena Williams (USA)
(3) Agnieszka Radwanska (POL)
(5) Petra Kvitova (CZE)
(8) Angelique Kerber (GER)
(2) Victoria Azarenka (BLR)
(4) Li Na (CHN)
(6) Sara Errani (ITA)
(7) Jelena Jankovic (SRB)
Predictions from Andrew Jones:
Red Group Top 2: Serena Williams and Aga Radwanska
White Group Top 2: Victoria Azarenka and Li Na
Final: Serena Williams defeats Aga Radwanska
Doubles winner: Peng Shuai and Su-Wei Hsieh
TEB BNP PARIBAS WTA CHAMPIONSHIPS – ISTANBUL
October 22-October 27, 2013
Order Of Play – Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Center Court (from 17.00hrs)
1. Victoria Azarenka vs. Sara Errani
2. Serena Williams vs. Angelique Kerber
3. Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Petra Kvitova