Elina Svitolina is the defending champion at the 2019 WTA Finals Shenzhen (PA Images)
We break down the WTA Finals Shenzhen 2019 draw and predict the winner at the season-ending championships.
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The elite eight players who qualified for the season-ending championships, held in their new home of Shenzhen for the first time in 2019, have been drawn into two groups – has the draw given anyone the advantage?
Players will compete against each other in round-robin groups, with the top two players in each group progressing to the semifinals.
Defending champion Elina Svitolina, who went undefeated on her way to the title last year, has landed in the Purple Group alongside Karolina Pliskova – looking to reach the WTA Finals semifinals for the third straight year – and Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, a former finalist, with US Open champion Bianca Andreescu making her debut.
In the Red Group, French Open champion Ashleigh Barty and Belinda Bencic are contesting the singles draw for the first time alongside Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, who comes in on a ten-match winning streak but failed to win a match on her season-ending championship debut last year. Former champion and 2015 Petra Kvitova is the veteran hoping to draw on all her experience to make it out of the group
Red Group: Player head-to-heads
Playing at the WTA Finals for the second year in a row, Naomi Osaka comes in as the form player, having won more matches than any other player in the field since the US Open and compiled a perfect 10-0 record, winning the Toray Pan-Pacific Open in Osaka and the China Open.
Osaka went 0-3 at the WTA Finals last year in Singapore but was hampered by a back injury, and there is every reason to expect her to do better this year – except that the draw has done her no favours by pairing her with Belinda Bencic, who has beaten her three times in 2019 including at the US Open, ending her title defense.
Bencic is a total nightmare match-up for Osaka, whose hopes of making the semifinals will therefore rely on beating Barty – whom she defeated just a few weeks ago in the Beijing final in three sets – and Kvitova, in a rematch of a thrilling Australian Open final, while losing as few games as possible.
While it’s difficult to know how conditions in Shenzhen will suit each player – one can bet, however, that the court will be slow rather than fast, which is not good for Kvitova – it seems likely that either Barty or Kvitova will succeed, if not in beating Osaka, then in making life difficult enough for her that she won’t reach the semifinals.
Bencic, on the other hand, looks like she’s in with an excellent chance on her debut. The Dubai champion didn’t play her best tennis in Moscow, but her willingness to keep going for her shots – something that hasn’t always been present when she needed it – and her aggressive returning saw her seize the title and her opportunity to make Shenzhen. She has a great record against Osaka and while she lost to Kvitova at the Australian Open and in Beijing this year, she did beat her in Dubai. She has never faced Barty, but could be very effective against the Australian, and I like Bencic’s chances to reach the semifinals very much.
Kvitova, the only former champion in the group and the only woman to have made multiple finals, played some good tennis in Wuhan and Beijing and looks finally back to full fitness after the left forearm injury that impacted her season. She went 0-3 in Singapore last year, but she’s lost to every player in her group this year – Barty multiple times – and I don’t think round-robin necessarily brings the best out of her.
As for top seed Barty, the French Open champion has won more matches than any other player in the field in 2019, and had a great Asian swing with her semifinal in Wuhan and runner-up showing in Beijing. But she has the worst record of any player in the group against the other three. She looks likely to get her third straight win against Kvitova, but I’m not sure she’ll beat Bencic, and that will leave her in a battle for the second semifinal spot with Osaka.
Purple Group: Player head-to-heads
There are plenty of unknowns in the Purple Group, but the two biggest and most significant concern Simona Halep and Bianca Andreescu. Is Halep fit to play? And how will Andreescu handle this big occasion?
When it comes to Halep, it’s difficult to say. The only other woman in the draw apart from Kvitova and Elina Svitolina to have made a final at the year-end championships, Halep had to pull out last year with a back injury and although the Wimbledon champion hasn’t withdrawn in 2019, she is 6-5 since winning Wimbledon with two retirements (Toronto and Wuhan) due to a left leg injury and a lower back injury.
Halep has had the best part of a month to rest and recover but it certainly doesn’t seem like ideal preparation for playing in Shenzhen – which is a shame for her because she has a great record vs Karolina Pliskova and has won her last two matches against Elina Svitolina, and would otherwise be a great pick for the semifinals.
As for how Andreescu will handle her Shenzhen debut, well, so far she hasn’t been in the least intimidated by the size of the stage during her insanely good 48-5 breakthrough season. She won her previous matches against Pliskova and Svitolina and I’ve no doubt that she’s more than capable of doing it again, and with the question marks over Halep’s fitness, I have no hesitation in writing the US Open champion into the semifinals.
Karolina Pliskova has made the semifinals at the year-end championships for the past two years and has been a tremendously reliable performer at WTA Tour level in 2019, despite early losses in Wuhan and Beijing to Dayana Yastremska and Jelena Ostapenko. She lost her only previous match against Andreescu in three sets, but while she has a losing record vs Halep, she won their only match this year (and two of the last three, in point of fact). On the other hand, while she has a winning record against Svitolina, the Ukrainian has won the last three.
Speaking of Svitolina, while being underestimated seems to light a fire under the Ukrainian – it powered her to a brilliant win this time last year – she has struggled with injury in 2019 and played arguably too many events in a bid to make it back to the WTA Finals. Never count her out – but I’m counting her out.
Bencic d. Pliskova
Andreescu d. Barty
Andreescu d. Bencic
WTA Finals tennis is live from Shenzhen from 27 October-3 November
WTA Finals Shenzhen 2019 draw: Will Andreescu dominate on her debut at the season-ending championships?
We break down the WTA Finals Shenzhen 2019 draw and predict the winner at the season-ending championships. *Geo-restrictions apply. Streams…
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