The WTA season ends in Istanbul this week as the top 8 players in the world gather for the End-of-season Championships. That there are few of the girls involved with a realistic shot at winning should come as no surprise. It has not been a vintage year at the top of the women’s game. Serena Williams returned to the peak, not in ranking but certainly in game. She is among the realistic contenders this week. Viktoria Azarenka is the other serious one, whilst I give an outside chance to Angelique Kerber if she can oust either of them from the toughest of the two round-robin groups.
The final between Vika and Serena in New York was the stand-out highlight of a pretty poor showing this year. It has the potential to be a great rivalry if Vika has the stomach to take on the Queen Bee of the WTA Tour. The evidence is there that she has more than enough tooth to take the fight right to Serena. She stood toe-to-toe with the veteran at Flushing Meadows, trading killer forehands for 3 brilliant three sets of tennis. You go either two ways from the crushing defeat when she failed to serve out for the Championship; you crumble away and slide down the rankings or you get right back on it and set about proving you are the rightful number one in the women’s game. The signs are there that the Belarusian has chosen the latter of these two options, having already won a tournament since the final major of the season. A couple of victories over Serena this week would mean that she could hold rightful claims to being the best player in the world.
Serena will of course have other ideas – she knows that a victory here would do nothing but rubberstamp her fantastic summer. She has dominated the field since her shock 1st round defeat at Roland Garros, her first ever defeat at the opening hurdle in a Grand Slam. Virginie Razzano’s victory over her should have been a highlight of any tennis year, but the horrible cold facts are that Serena was woeful that day and the at-times cruel Parisian crowd got to her. Serena has more Grand Slam victories in her sights – Steffi Graf’s 22 may be out of reach, but Williams will believe she can collect three more to match Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. It would be silly to suggest this is motivating Serena at this stage in her career and I am shocked that so many experts are stating it as fact. The truth is Serena has never needed records or titles to motivate her. She is motivated by winning every single match she competes in – it’s as simple as that. It’s what sets apart the best champions from the rest.
There is no need to go over the list of players who have been at the top of the women’s game in the last 10 years who did not possess this motivation and killer instinct. Millions of column inches have been written discrediting their achievements and games, which serves to do nothing but sully those girl’s commendable careers. But we all know the ones who do possess it. Serena possesses it, Sharapova possesses it, Justine Henin had it and the legends mentioned in the previous paragraph personified it. It is my belief that Victoria Azarenka has that in abundance. Her potential took longer to come to fruition than her fans thought it would. Indeed, there was a time a couple of years ago when it appeared she just was not going to crack it and massive potential was to go unfulfilled. But Vika has fought her way to the very top of the rankings and has a Grand Slam title in the bag after her vicious no-mercy demolishing of Sharapova in Melbourne nine months ago. She has the game and the nerve to go on and battle it out with Serena and even to stop Serena from getting level with her fellow Americans Navratilova and Evert. She is the one player who means that the chance to draw level with them does not simply lie only on Serena’s racket.
I would be surprised if anybody other than these two girls was to lift the trophy at the end of the week. Like I say, Kerber has an outside shot if she puts her game together and Vika or Serena drop the ball. It would be more than surprise, it would be amazement, if the winner was to come from the other group. Radwanska could win it another year if people come in off-form or unfit but cannot match the dominant Williams or Azarenka. Sara Errani will be happy to just be there and is the whipping girl, I’m afraid. Kudos to her for backing up her Roland Garros final appearance with enough ranking points to qualify though. Petra Kvitova has flattered to deceive this year and will struggle to get out of the group, whilst Sharapova is a guaranteed semi-final shot, but will come up short against either Serena or Vika in the semi-final stage. I have to confess that I was actually dumbfounded that Na Li had done enough to make the tournament – clearly I am not following the women’s game as closely as I should do. Her best days are behind her it would seem.
My idea of a successful tournament needs only a few things. I would like the semi -finals and finals to be watched by a full stadium. If not, something really needs to be done to look at an alternative venue. London would sell this thing out and ensure full houses for every single match. Another thing is at least one of the semi-finals going the distance, and the final being a showcase for great tennis. The final thing will be for all eight girls which start the tournament to be the eight who finish it. I do not like the idea of alternates and there have been far too many retirements and withdrawals in recent years. Not too much to ask, is it?!