WTA Finals preview: 50th edition set to showcase fresh competitors

THE stage is set for the 2021 WTA Finals in Guadalajara, Mexico, with the eight participants decided last week and the draw revealed yesterday. Pitting the eight best singles players for the year against one another – minus the unavailable Ash Barty – the round robin event is set to provide plenty of intrigue with recent form a significant factor in how the tournament will play out. The singles group names – Chichén Itzá and Teotihuacán – pay tribute to ancient cities in Mexico. Participants will play fellow group members first, before the top two from each group play out the semi-finals and finals later in the week. Here is Rookie Me Central‘s 2021 WTA Finals preview.

Group Chichén Itzá

[1] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR)
[4] Maria Sakkari (GRE)
[5] Iga Swiatek (POL)
[7] Paula Badosa (ESP)

Group Teotihuacán

[2] Barbora Krejcikova (CZE)
[3] Karolina Pliskova (CZE)
[6] Garbine Muguruza (ESP)
[8] Anett Kontaveit (EST)

Group Chichén Itzá

Group Chichén Itzá looks like a tight one, with a couple of high impact, high return players in the mix. Maria Sakkari has had an excellent 2021 and boasts a 7-3 record against top 10 talent, making for a confidence-boosting figure as she enters her maiden WTA Finals. Her biggest competitor is arguable Aryna Sabalenka, with the Belarusian sitting on a 44-16 record for the year, although Sabalenka’s three set winning rate has not been her forte this season so could be the key to defeating the top seed.

Young gun Iga Swiatek is the youngest of the group but has not dropped off from the top group like many expected after a breakout 2020, instead settling in nicely to her newfound form. While seventh seed Paula Badosa may seem like the underdog of Group Chichén Itzá, the Spaniard has registered nine come-from-behind wins throughout 2021, firing back after the first set to claim the wins. Her ability to muster up the courage and firepower to do so cannot be underestimated.

Group Teotihuacán

In Group Teotihuacán, the highly experienced Karolina Pliskova will look to stake her claim on the event as one of just two participants making a return to the Finals, alongside six-ranked Spaniard, Garbine Muguruza. Experience is not everything though, with a couple of bolters in the group including Czech Barbora Krejcikova – who has rocketed from the mid-60s in January to top three here – and eighth seed Anett Kontaveit.

Krejcikova has entered the singles draw for the first time to go with her top seeding in the doubles, while Kontaveit has had a hot hand over the past two months, shrugging off a five-match losing streak in August to make her top 10 debut last week after winning four titles in her final seven tournaments of the year. Whilst she may not have the ongoing consistency of some of those higher ranked than her, what Kontaveit has in her back pocket is confidence and an excellent serve, making for an intriguing competitor.

Head to Heads

Looking at head to heads amongst each group, and a couple of things stand out. Firstly, there will be a couple of first-time matchups in Group Chichén Itzá with Sabalenka and Swiatek yet to meet prior to the WTA Finals, with the former claiming four wins from five matches against Sakkari but a loss in her only match against Badosa. Badosa has also beaten Swiatek, but never played Sakkari, while Sakkari has beaten Swiatek twice in the past six months.

In Group Teotihuacán, Pliskova well and truly leads the way with a combined 13-2 winning rate against her group, with her two losses coming to Muguruza, and both way back in 2013 and 2017, respectively. Muguruza has a shaky ratio against her group members overall with two wins and two losses against Kontaveit, and a 1-2 record against Krejcikova, while Krejcikova and Kontaveit – the two big improvers of the group – have never played one another, making for an intriguing clash between the two WTA players with the most 2021 wins behind them.

Who might be crowned the 2021 WTA Finals winner?

Overall, expect the in-form Sabalenka to continue where she has left off this season and lead the Chichén Itzá pack into the semis, although it could come down to a coin toss for the second player with all three fellow group members in great form. Despite inexperience in the field, expect at least one of Krejcikova or Kontaveit to proceed past the group stage, if not both. Recent form counts for a lot, with Kontaveit’s four titles for the season leading the whole group, while Krejcikova will only be a question mark based on fatigue with the doubles in progress, too.

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