While other tennis players made public appearances and took part in photo shoots in between practices ahead of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore, one star was conspicuously missing - until yesterday.
World No. 1 Serena Williams - arguably the biggest star slated for the prestigious season-ending event - arrived in Singapore as planned to put an end to any speculation that the American might pull out.
The 33-year-old, however, appeared slightly frazzled - presumably after a long flight - in a picture tweeted by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) yesterday afternoon.
Doubts about Williams being fit for the tournament, held in the Asia-Pacific region for the first time, were raised earlier this month when she withdrew from the China Open quarter-finals with a left knee injury.
She had said then: "If I feel this way for Singapore, I don't think it's smart for me to play."
The defending WTA Finals champion will nevertheless have her work cut out for her, especially with a resurgent Maria Sharapova within touching distance of the year-end No. 1 spot.
The 27-year-old Russian is enjoying a stellar season, having made a successful comeback from a injury lay-off last year that ended her 2013 season prematurely.
She has won four titles this year, including the French Open.
She told The Straits Times yesterday on the sidelines of a charity event by German car manufacturer Porsche: "Considering the end of last season, missing out four months and not knowing how I'd be doing this season, I feel like I'm in a very great position and had a very good season.
"It would be a great achievement to become No. 1 and finish the year like that."
Sharapova is less than 500 points behind Williams, meaning a decent showing at the Singapore event would put her in good stead to clinch the year-end top ranking for the first time in her career.
Players earn 70 points with each round-robin match - win or lose - with an additional 90 points added to the tally for a victory.
But even with Williams' fitness up in the air, Sharapova said she does not sense any vulnerability coming from her rival's camp, suggesting that the American's withdrawal from the China Open was done more out of precaution in order to get ready for the Singapore tournament, which is presented by SC Global.
"Everyone wants to be healthy for an event like this," said Sharapova. "It is a very important event of the year. There were a few other withdrawals besides Serena because everyone wants to be in top shape for this."
But while her competitors will be competing at an unfamiliar venue for the first time, perhaps Sharapova can count on having a slight edge.
She played at the Singapore Indoor Stadium during an exhibition match in 2007.
She said: "When you have a new event, there'll always be surprises along the way, things we don't see from the organisational (point of view).
"But we've seen great support so far on social media and at the end of the day, feeling that support is what makes us play our best tennis."
This article was first published on October 17, 2014, 2014.
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