She has not been at her best for much of the year, but Serena Williams still managed to be the centre of attention at the WTA Finals Singapore even when she was absent.
Fears that the 33-year-old might withdraw with a knee injury were fuelled by a lack of publicity appearances, while rivals like Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic charmed the fans here.
But Williams finally eased concerns about her attendance when she took part in her first public appearance yesterday, at the official singles draw at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands' ice skating rink.
There was no reticence from the 18-time Grand Slam singles winner either as she declared she is determined to retain the WTA Finals title which she has won for the past two years.
"I don't care who I play, to be perfectly honest with you," said the American. "You can put me against anybody at this point, I'm ready. I really can't wait for my match. I wish I had a match now."
Sporting a yellow strapless dress and champagne heels, Williams left no doubt that she feels she is the queen bee that the other seven players have to overcome to lay their hands on the Billie Jean King Trophy.
When the emcee called her name, she stood up and briefly surveyed the 750-strong audience, then smiled and strode confidently onto the stage.
"I'm just really happy to have been able to make it this year," she said onstage.
"There's a lot of crowd support, I'm really looking forward to it and I think I'm going to have the time of my life here."
If that was gushing sentiment from the American, it could also prove ominous for her WTA Finals opponents.
As the top seed, Williams was placed straight into the Red group, and she was eventually joined by Romanian Simona Halep, Canada's Eugenie Bouchard and Ivanovic of Serbia.
World No. 2 Sharapova was put into the White Group, and the Russian will face Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska and Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki.
The top two from the two round-robin groups - named after the colours of the Singapore flag - will advance to the semi-finals.
Sharapova, who won the French Open in June and is favourite to dethrone Williams, said: "There's no easy draw for anyone. I'm quite happy with my group. I hope to start on a good note."
Before they begin the serious side of the prestigious season-ending competition, the eight tennis stars dazzled at yesterday's glamour event, going the extra mile to put on a good show for the fans, many of whom had arrived more than an hour before the event began.
Halep looked radiant in a colourful print dress, Sharapova shone in a collared mesh-sleeve dress, while Ivanovic resembled a Hollywood star at a red-carpet movie premiere with her navy bodycon dress.
With the countdown ticking before the competition begins, the women were all smiles, gamely posing for photos . Pictures of them unwinding with each other flooded their social media accounts.
All the razzmatazz aside, however, there is little doubt where their priorities lie. Asked what she has been up to in Singapore, Sharapova, who won the WTA Finals in 2004, said: "Quite boring actually. I've just been practising."
Williams also left no doubt what she has come to Singapore for. A couple of hours after the draw, the WTA Twitter account uploaded a photo of the American at the Indoor Stadium - practising as well.
This article was first published on October 19, 2014.
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