WTA

WTA Finals: Rising and resurgent stars collide at 50th year-ending championships

By Sports Desk November 10, 2021

The 2021 WTA Finals look set to be a fitting end to a fascinating season on the Tour.

The 50th year-ending championships, which will take place in Guadalajara instead of Shenzhen due to coronavirus restrictions, will see eight of the top-10 ranked players come together in two round-robin groups, with four semi-final places up for grabs.

Six of the eight competitors will make their debuts at the event, while only two grand slam finalists from this year – and just one champion – will be present. With world number one Ash Barty withdrawing because of concerns around possible quarantine issues, it really does feel like an open draw.

Stats Perform looks at the eight Finalists and the key data you need to know before the action gets underway...

Group Chichen Itza

Aryna Sabalenka (1)

World number two Sabalenka is the top-ranked competitor in Guadalajara, with 44 match wins this year and titles in Abu Dhabi and Madrid, where she beat Barty.

The Belarusian boasts formidable weapons: Sabalenka has won 71.1 per cent of first-serve points and has an average of 8.4 forehand winners per match on the Tour this season, both of which are best figures among the eight Finalists.

She has only played two matches since losing to Leylah Fernandez in the US Open semi-finals, though, both of which were at last month's Kremlin Cup in Moscow.

Did you know? Since the start of 2018, Sabalenka has won the joint-most matches (three) in WTA Tour main draws after losing the first set 0-6. At the same time, she is 9-13 in three-set contests in 2021.

 

Maria Sakkari (4)

The nearly-woman of 2021, Sakkari has reached more semi-finals this year (seven) than anyone else on the WTA Tour, including at two of the four slams, but made it to just one final (in Ostrava, where she lost to Anett Kontaveit).

Still, this has been a historic year for the 26-year-old, who became the first Greek woman to reach a major semi-final, enter the top 10 and qualify for the season-ending championship.

Since the start of the US Open, Sakkari has lost only four of 14 matches, a run that includes the semi-final of the Kremlin Cup where she retired due to dizziness.

Did you know? Nobody has won more Tour-level matches against top-10 opponents this year than Sakkari (seven, level with Barty and Jessica Pegula). Before 2021, her record in such matches was 10-13.

 

Iga Swiatek (5)

Swiatek, the 2020 French Open champion, is the youngest competitor at these Finals at 20 years and 170 days old (as of the tournament's end). She is just the second player born this century to reach this event, after Bianca Andreescu in 2019.

Although unable to get beyond the quarter-finals of a major this year, Swiatek did win titles in Adelaide and Rome, where she inflicted a double bagel on Karolina Pliskova in the final.

Her success in Australia was her first on a hard court, a surface on which she won 19 of 28 matches this year.

Did you know? Swiatek has won 58 per cent (28 of 48) of her matches this season in straight sets, the highest ratio among the Finalists.

 

Paula Badosa (7)

A successful year for Badosa has been built on clay: she won a Tour-leading 17 matches on the dirt in 2021, reaching the French Open quarter-finals, the last four in Madrid and Charleston and winning the title in Belgrade.

This has been a breakthrough season for the 23-year-old across all surfaces, though, one that culminated in a record-breaking three-set win over Victoria Azarenka in the final at Indian Wells last month.

Badosa clinched that match after a third-set tie-break. She has won four deciding sets in that fashion this year, the most of anyone on the WTA Tour.

Did you know? Badosa has won seven matches (excluding the Olympics) after dropping the first set in 2021. Nobody else has as many come-from-behind victories among the Finalists.

 

Group Teotihuacan

Barbora Krejcikova (2)

The only major singles champion from 2021 at these Finals, Krejcikova has enjoyed a remarkable rise this year.

Along with success at Roland Garros, where she also triumphed in the doubles, the Czech won titles in Strasbourg and Prague; only world number one Barty (five) and Kontaveit (four) have won more this year.

Among the eight finalists, Krejcikova boasts the highest break-point conversion ratio (49.7 per cent, or 142/286) and break-point saved figure (66.4 per cent, or 150/226) for this season. She has become a clutch competitor and will be hard to stop in Mexico, both in the singles and the doubles.

Did you know? Krejcikova has won six matches against top-20 opponents in her career. All six of those wins were in 2021.

 

Karolina Pliskova (3)

Pliskova boasts impressive experience of the year-ending event: she is only the fourth player to qualify for five or more WTA Finals since the current format was introduced in 2003 (after Agnieszka Radwanska, Petra Kvitova and Azarenka).

Beaten in her three Tour finals this year, including Wimbledon, the 29-year-old will be desperate to go at least one better than her three consecutive semi-final appearances at this event.

Pliskova begins against Garbine Muguruza, a player she has beaten twice before at the season-ending tournament.

Did you know? Pliskova leads the Tour for aces this season with 364, hitting a year-best 21 in her round-of-16 match with Jelena Ostapenko in Stuttgart. It's the fourth time in the past six seasons Pliskova has been top of the aces standings.

 

Garbine Muguruza (6)

This is the first time since 2000 that two Spanish players have contested the Finals. Back then, it was Conchita Martinez and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Muguruza, champion in Dubai and Chicago this year, has won more matches on hard courts (34) than anyone else in 2021 aside from Kontaveit. She also boasts the best average for successful net approaches this year (3.0) among the Finalists, which will make her a challenging obstacle in what will be her first Finals since 2017.

The former world number won made a career-high four Tour finals this year and won more than one trophy in a season for just the second time, sending her back into the top 10 for the first time since 2018. 

Did you know? Muguruza boasts a 10-1 record in WTA tournaments in Mexico, winning back-to-back titles in Monterrey in 2018 and 2019.

 

Anett Kontaveit (8)

With a Tour-leading 37 hard-court wins this year and on a formidable run of form, Kontaveit could spring a surprise at her first Finals.

After losing her fifth match in a row to Ons Jabeur on August 17, the Estonian went on a run of 26 wins from 28 matches, lifted four titles and broke into the top 10 for the first time. It was Jabeur she edged out for a place at this tournament after she won her fourth title of the year at Cluj-Napoca.

Along with Barty, Kontaveit is the only player to reach six Tour-level finals this year, while nobody at the season-ending tournament has won more titles (four).

Did you know? Kontaveit has hit the most backhand winners (293) on hard courts on the WTA Tour in 2021, averaging nearly six per match.

 

Related items

  • Barcelona great Kluivert backs Mbappe to win Ballon d'Or soon Barcelona great Kluivert backs Mbappe to win Ballon d'Or soon

    Kylian Mbappe will not have long to wait until he wins the Ballon d'Or, according to Barcelona great Patrick Kluivert.

    Mbappe was widely expected to join Real Madrid when his Paris Saint-Germain contract expired in June, but opted to sign a three-year extension in the French capital.

    The 23-year-old cited the project changing at PSG as he hopes to secure a maiden Champions League success.

    Mbappe was in scintillating form this campaign as he scored 28 league goals, a tally only bettered by Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (35) across Europe's top five leagues.

    The France international also added 17 assists, with no player in Europe's biggest leagues managing more direct goal involvements (45) – Les Bleus team-mate Karim Benzema ranked second with 39.

    Mbappe will look to deliver World Cup glory for France in Qatar later this year, and Kluivert believes it will only be a matter of time before the PSG talisman wins the Ballon d'Or.

    "Mbappe is one of the best players out there at the moment," former PSG director of football Kluivert told Spanish daily Mundo Deportivo.

    "I congratulate him on his recent renewal with the team. I think he will win the Ballon d'Or shortly."

    Kluivert also discussed his former club Barca, who ended LaLiga in second despite languishing in ninth when Xavi took charge after Ronald Koeman's dismissal in late October.

    Xavi will now be tasked with rebuilding in the transfer window as he looks to close the gap on Champions League and LaLiga winners Real Madrid.

    Kluivert played with Xavi at Camp Nou, and backed his former team-mate to transform Barca's fortunes.

    "Next season he will have many possibilities to improve the team, I have a lot of faith in him," Kluivert said.

    "The club has very good young players who know the values ​​of the club. I am confident that Barca will return to where it was."

  • Koulibaly's agent denies transfer talks amid Barcelona links Koulibaly's agent denies transfer talks amid Barcelona links

    Kalidou Koulibaly's agent says the Napoli defender is not in talks with any other club amid speculation over a transfer to Barcelona.

    Koulibaly's contract with Luciano Spalletti's side is set to expire in June 2023, leading to suggestions Xavi's Blaugrana could swoop for the 30-year-old.

    Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis conceded earlier this month that the Senegal international could not be forced to stay, after the centre-back had stated "we'll see what happens at the end of the season".

    Spalletti will be eager to keep Koulibaly, after Napoli conceded the joint-fewest goals in Serie A (31) and kept the second-most clean sheets (16 – behind Milan, 18) this campaign.

    Fali Ramadani, the agent of Koulibaly, says talk of his client being on the move is premature.

    "There are many rumours, and I want to clarify that we are not in talks with any club for Koulibaly," Ramadani told Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport.

    "We are waiting to meet with Napoli to decide the best solution for both parties."

    Reports in Italy also suggest Juventus are interested in Koulibaly after Bianconeri great Giorgio Chiellini ended his 17-year spell in Turin.

  • Di Giannantonio claims 'unimaginable' maiden pole at Mugello Di Giannantonio claims 'unimaginable' maiden pole at Mugello

    Fabio di Giannantonio claimed a stunning maiden MotoGP pole in his home race at the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello on Saturday. 

    The rookie Gresini rider snatched pole as rainy conditions hovered over the Mugello circuit, leading an Italian front three on the grid with Valentino Rossi duo Marco Bezzecchi and Luca Marini was halted due to a red flag.

    Initial spots of rain prompted the field to venture out on rain tyres expect Brad Binder, who gambled and lapped almost three seconds quicker, forcing the rest to return to the pits for slicks.

    Di Giannantonio took chances on the testy Mugello circuit, sticking his 2021-spec Gresini on pole with a time of 1:46.156, and his response post-qualifying was naturally one of excitement.

    "It’s one thing unimaginable, since you arrive right here in Mugello and anticipate to do a superb outcome for all of the individuals who come for you, who cheer for you, all of the help that you’ve got right here in your house race," he said post-qualifying.

    "Already using a Ducati MotoGP bike in Mugello is one thing unimaginable, and getting to the pole place is one thing else.

    "It was such a fantastic finish of the day for me, and one of many desires of my life is to be high on the grid in MotoGP."

    Johann Zarco briefly held provisional pole but had to settle for fourth on his Pramac Ducati, ahead of Francesco Bagnaia on the factory Ducati.

    He was followed by reigning world champion Fabio Quartararo, with Aprilia's Aleix Espargaro and LCR Honda's Takaaki Nakagami rounding out the second row.

    While Jack Miller missed out on Q2, but qualifying was ultimately marred by a fiery crash for Marc Marquez, who had a big highside at Luco.

    PROVISIONAL GRID

    1. Fabio di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing) 1:46.156
    2. Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46) +0.088s
    3. Luca Marini (Mooney VR46) +0.171s
    4. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) +0.227s
    5. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) +0.315s
    6. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) +0.350s
    7. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) +0.351s
    8. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) +0.405s
    9. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda) +0.511s
    10. Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing) +0.523s

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.