Women’s Look Forward: Moscow, Luxembourg

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Copyright © 2015. No duplication is permitted without permission from Bob Larson Tennis.

WTA Tennis News
Bet you can guess what our features this week will be about.

This is the last week of the Race, and will decide who qualifies for Singapore. (And Zhuhai, if anyone cares except for the people who have to play for yet another week.)

We didn’t even need to have play begin at Moscow to have Race news. All we needed was the draw. Most of the top Race contenders were in it — Angelique Kerber, Lucie Safarova, and Carla Suarez Navarro with direct entry; Agnieszka Radwanska, Flavia Pennetta, and Karolina Pliskova by wildcard. But Belinca Bencic and Venus Williams are not in the draw. So they are out of the Race.

Of course, it would be no surprise to see several of those players in the Moscow draw pull out at the last moment. It has happened before! Indeed, it has happened before with one of our contenders this year, Angelique Kerber, who will qualify for Singapore if she can win Hong Kong. Similarly, Agnieszka Radwanska will clinch if she wins Tianjin. So the field may change dramatically within the next 24 hours. But, as of now, Radwanska is the #1 Moscow seed. Safarova is #2, and she will probably play as much as she can even if she qualifies, simply because she needs matches. Flavia Pennetta, who got a big reprieve when Venus Williams lost in Hong Kong, is #3 and in Safarova’s half, so they could theoretically meet in a match where the winner qualifies and the loser goes home. (Or to Zhuhai, at least.) Kerber, who is in Radwanska’s half, is #4 and has the last bye. Carla Suarez Navarro, the last real contender since Karolina Pliskova lost her Tianjin semifinal, is #5 and in Safarova’s quarter. Pliskova, despite her poor chances, is #6 and in Kerber’s. And then — you can see the “I’m done for the year” effect. There really aren’t many players in action between #15 and #25. The next seed is #7 Irina-Camelia Begu, who is in Pennetta’s quarter. Note the implications: No one who is clinched for Singapore is playing Moscow. Nor is anyone here who is playing Zhuhai (except those who are still fighting for a Singapore spot). Frankly, once the Race is settled, it would be no surprise to see mass pullouts.

To be sure, there are other players in the draw. For starters, there is #8 seed Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, who is in Radwanska’s quarter. Before that, Radwanska will face either Daria Gavrilova or Alize Cornet in the second round. Kerber could start against Svetlana Kuznetsova (who, however, is in terrible form this year). Begu opens against Tsvetana Pironkova, who is more of a threat on indoor surfaces than anywhere else except grass. Pennetta will likely open — and perhaps play her last WTA match — against Dominika Cibulkova. Suarez Navarro starts against Kristina Mladenovic. And Safarova is likely to start against defending champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

The week’s other event, Luxembourg, has a proud history, but is now a mere International event that suffers in addition from being stuck at the end of the year. It did manage to sign up one Race contender, #1 seed Timea Bacsinszky (who probably didn’t think, at the time she signed up, that she would be in contention), but that’s it. Roberta Vinci, who was in line to be the #3 seed, is no longer in the draw, presumably because she’s out of Race contention. That leaves Ana Ivanovic the #2 seed and Sara Errani the #3, in Bacsinszky’s half. Andrea Petkovic is #4. #5 Jelena Jankovic, who will be very tired, would face iron woman Petkovic in the quarterfinal. Errani has drawn #6 Sloane Stephens. Ivanovic is up against #7 Barbora Strycova. Bacsinszky’s quarter includes #8 Annika Beck. That’s a pretty low seed cutoff, so there aren’t many strong unseeded players, but Bacsinszky might face Madison Brengle in round two, and Strycova starts against Yanina Wickmayer, who (other than wildcard Mandy Minella) is the closest thing to a local in the field.

We observe that Lucie Hradecka is at Luxembourg rather than Moscow. We don’t have the week’s doubles draws yet, but that is noteworthy because it means that Hlavackova/Hradecka will be in Luxembourg rather than in Moscow. Garbine Muguruza isn’t in the Moscow singles draw, so we assume that Muguruza/Suarez Navarro will not play Moscow and are out of the double Race. That means that it’s down to Hlavackova/Hradecka versus Kops-Jones/Spears for the last Singapore spot — and that Hlavackova/Hradecka cannot lose to Kops-Jones/Spears in Linz or it’s all over.

The Rankings

This is the week the Race turns into the rankings.

That statement is, of course, oversimplified; it ignore, e.g., Challengers. Also, the WTA isn’t showing Serena Williams in the Race, but she obviously still tops the rankings (although her total will fall below 10,000 points, giving her a year-end total that is amazing but not quite as superhuman as her current 11,285.) But if Race and Rankings don’t quite coincide, it’s true that the 2014 year-end Championships is coming off, meaning that the only WTA points on the record will be those earned this year. That means that Serena Williams will lose her Champion’s points, and Simona Halep her finalist points; Agnieszka Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki will lose semifinalist points, and Eugenie Bouchard, Ana Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova, and Petra Kvitova will lose Round Robin points. (It also means, incidentally, that Sania Mirza will be losing champion’s points from last year, which happens to represent her entire lead over her partner Martina Hingis. Hingis appears bound, in career #3, for a return to #1 in doubles.)

We note that Bouchard and Ivanovic and Wozniacki won’t be in Singapore. Bouchard didn’t win a match last year, but just showing up is worth points, so she will be falling several more places. Wozniacki will probably be below #15, at least for now. Ditto Ivanovic.

The real contest, of course, is not to see who will be #15. It’s to see who will be #2 through #9, since those eight women will be in Singapore. (Serena Williams is guaranteed to be #1.) We know that Simona Halep will be #2 (and so the #1 Singapore seed, assuming she is able to play). Because Maria Sharapova isn’t playing Moscow, we know that Garbine Muguruza will be #3 and Sharapova #4. Below that, it’s still up in the air. The WTA calls this the “tightest Race ever.” That description is not very clear, but we agree that it is a tight and exciting contest. (What does “tightest” mean in this context? The term is undefined. “Most spots still open with eight days to go”? “Most contenders left with eight days to go”? “Smallest gap from the eighth player to the Xth player”?) Here, again, is our Race Chances List:
1. (WAS: 1) S. Williams. Currently: 9945. Maximum possible: 9945. CLINCHED (but won’t play)
2. (WAS: 2) Halep. Currently: 5790. Maximum possible: 5685. CLINCHED
3. (WAS: 3) Muguruza. Currently: 4511. Maximum possible: 4510. CLINCHED
4. (WAS: 4) Sharapova. Currently: 4322. Maximum possible: 4292. CLINCHED
5. (WAS: 5) Kvitova. Currently: 3491. Maximum possible: 3491. CLINCHED
6. (WAS: 6) Kerber. Currently: 3400. Maximum possible: 3860.
7. (WAS: 7) A. Radwanska. Currently: 3325. Maximum possible: 3795.
8. (WAS: 8) Safarova. Currently: 3221. Maximum possible: 3690.
9. (WAS: 9) Pennetta. Currently: 3153. Maximum possible: 3622.
10. (WAS: 10) Bacsinszky. Currently: 3133. Maximum possible: 3412.
11. (WAS: 12) V. Williams. Currently: 3091. Maximum possible: 3091. OUT
12. (WAS: 11) Suarez Navarro. Currently: 3030. Maximum possible: 3400.
13. (WAS: 13) Ka. Pliskova. Currently: 2955. Maximum possible: 3320.
14. (WAS: 14) Bencic. Currently: 2900. Maximum possible: 2900. OUT
15. (WAS: 15) Vinci. Currently: 2655. Maximum possible: 2655. OUT
16. (WAS: 16) Wozniacki. Currently: 2641. Maximum possible: 2641. OUT

So we have seven contenders — Kerber, Radwanska, Safarova, Pennetta, Bacsinszky, Suarez Navarro, and Pliskova — for four places. In theory, four places. In practice, Kerber and Radwanska will surely make it and it’s Bacsinszky, Suarez Navarro, and Pliskova chasing Safarova and Pennetta. Note that Bacsinszky and Suarez Navarro both have maximum scores around 3400. That means roughly (this is oversimplifying, but we doubt you want all the many possible outcomes listed) that Safarova clinches with a Moscow semifinal or when Bacsinszky and Suarez Navarro lose. Pennetta needs a Moscow final. But it seems quite likely that both will make it anyway with less; Pliskova is too far back to have a real hope of passing everyone, and Suarez Navarro isn’t too fond of indoor surfaces. Bacsinszky has probably the best shot, especially since she’s playing the weaker event, but that also means that she earns fewer points for each win.

Copyright © 2015. No duplication is permitted without permission from Bob Larson Tennis.