Women's tennis: One who adapts fast will win

SINGAPORE - With eight singles and 12 doubles titles under her belt, Martina Navratilova is the most successful player in the 42-year history of the season-ending BNP Paribas Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Finals.

And for the tennis legend, what stands out most about this elite competition is its format, which sees the top eight singles players and top four doubles pairs battling for glory and a share of its US$6.5 million (S$8.1 million) prize purse.

It is the level and intensity of the competition from the get-go, Navratilova said, that makes it stand out from other tournaments on the circuit, because top players cannot expect easy matches early on to get into the swing of things.

Said the 57-year-old Czech-American who has 18 Grand Slam titles in a 27-year career (1975-94, 2000-06): "This is the one tournament of the year where there are no warm-up matches.

"The round-robin format gives you a little bit of breathing room, but again you play only the top players, so you have to be in great physical shape.

"I'm looking forward to some really competitive matches, and I think the crowd is really going to enjoy it.

"It's also the end of the year, and it's about who is the least tired, and who wants it most."

Tellingly, when Czech Republic's Petra Kvitova won her first WTA Finals title in 2011, she credited her stamina and good health for her victory.

With the competition moving to Singapore for the first time - the Oct 17-26 WTA Finals will be held at the Singapore Indoor Stadium - Navratilova reckoned the winner will be the one who adapts to the indoor setting quickest.

She said: "You never know how the surface will play. For Wimbledon, you know it's the same grass as the year before, maybe a little faster or slower.

"But here, players don't know what to expect until they arrive. There's a lot of variation and you need to adapt."

Off the court, Navratilova believes the biggest plus of having tennis' biggest stars cross swords in a country like Singapore, where tennis is far from established, are the young minds they could potentially inspire.

"I saw Rod Laver play live when I was nine. I always knew I wanted to play tennis but that really cemented it for me.

"Like me, he was a leftie. He played a great game, and totally solidified that dream for me," recalled the Prague native.

"It may be the case here when kids come to watch these women play and, 10 years later, you might have a champion here; and in 2025, we'd be talking about a player from Singapore whose seed was planted at this tournament."

Singapore youth player Ashley Yim could well be one such player. The 14-year-old is one of 72 children in the Singapore Ballkids Programme, from which 30 will be chosen to be ball kids at the WTA Finals.

And the youngster cannot wait to see her idols Maria Sharapova and Li Na up close.

Said Ashley: "It's going to be a tennis masterclass, watching these players up close, and observing how they deal with their opponents and the stress.

"If we get the opportunity to talk to them, ask them how they do it, it will definitely inspire us and could have a positive effect on our careers."

siangyee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on August 21, 2014.
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