Tennis: Finalists relishing challenge

Tennis: Finalists relishing challenge
Chairman of the Women Tennis Association (WTA) Stacey Allaster (fifth from left) with the eight top women tennis players (from left) Caroline Wozniacki, Agnieszka Radwanska, Petra Kvitova, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, Eugenie Bouchard and Simona Halep.

Over the past week, as the world's top women's tennis players came to town, much of the buzz surrounding the BNP Paribas WTA Finals has been about cameras focused on their charm and celebrity status.

Today, the spotlight returns to the court. And these athletes, like fashionable gladiators dressed in sporty frocks, have made it clear they are not here to just look pretty.

Their eyes, instead, are fixed on the Billie Jean King trophy.

After all, the US$6.5 million (S$8.3 million) tournament ranks as one of the most important on the professional tour, second in prestige only to the Grand Slams.

The victor can distinguish herself as having emerged tops in an elite field consisting of the year's best performers.

Caroline Wozniacki, the world No. 9 from Denmark, told the media yesterday at the ArtScience Museum: "You can win a Grand Slam or get to the final without playing a top 10 player. Here, there are no easy starts.

"You have to play the best players in the world from the start. That definitely makes it difficult (but) it also makes for a great challenge."

Romania's Simona Halep (23 years old) and Canadian Eugenie Bouchard (20), the youngest in the eight-player singles field, are making their debuts in the tournament. Not that their relative inexperience is deterring the duo in any way.

World No. 7 Bouchard, the first Canadian to play this event in 25 years since Helen Kelesi, said: "I totally feel like I belong. I've earned the right to be here."

Halep, meanwhile, made qualifying for the finals one of her goals for the season.

"I said I want to be at the biggest (event), so I'm here now. I have nothing to lose at this tournament," she said.

Just making the grade to play here, said 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic, is in itself an achievement.

Having felt the highs of a Grand Slam win and being world No. 1, the Serb admitted that she had years ago taken for granted what it meant to play at the Finals. This is her first appearance at the event since 2008.

Said the 26-year-old, who finished the season outside of the top 20 in 2009 and 2011: "It's been my goal for many years to get back to the top 10, and to reach the finals.

"This is not about ranking. It's just being the best out of the whole year. Just being part of this elite (group), it's a special feeling because you know how hard you have to work to make it."

But even for these veterans of high-intensity on-court duels, the finals present a challenge they are not used to at other tournaments on tour.

The unique round-robin format of the tournament means that players pick up points and remain in the tournament even if they lose matches, with the top two from each group moving on to the semi-finals.

Said Halep: "It's different because there are two groups. Even if you lose first, you (will) still be here, so it's good. I have just to be focused, more focused and just to try my chance."

Bouchard added: "To be part of the best players in the world is a great thing and an accomplishment on its own.

"But I don't want to be happy with just participating this week."

Opening ceremony (7pm). Singles, rd robin (7.30pm) - StarHub Ch203/205 & 76.25MHz

This article was first published on Oct 20, 2014.
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