WTA Finals Preview: Champion Wozniacki tops the bill as Halep and Williams miss out

World number one Simona Halep broke her Grand Slam duck this year but injury means she has to miss WTA Finals, while Serena's ranking sees her absent...

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A cracking season on the women’s tour draws to a close this week with the WTA Finals in Singapore.

We’ve seen new faces and old reliables light up the court in 2018.

We began Down Under, where Caroline Wozniacki finally banished the label ‘slamless no. 1’ from her profile.

Simona Halep, beaten finalist in Melbourne and another no.1 without a major, then changed that narrative with victory in Paris.

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Serena Williams’ post-baby resurgence wasn’t enough to derail Angelique Kerber from a third major title in Wimbledon.

Then came the story of the 2018 slams: 20-year-old Naomi Osaka’s triumph in Flushing Meadows at the expense of a fiery Serena.

The year’s eight best players minus Halep will duke it out this week as the world no.1 has unfortunately tweaked her back.

However, we will have the remaining major winners in a field with five other ladies looking to end the year with a flourish.

Tennis – Australian Open – Melbourne, Australia, January 28, 2018. Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark kisses the women’s singles trophy during the winner’s photoshoot at the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne, Australia. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The Elite Eight

Caroline Wozniacki – World No.2 – 5/1

Wozniacki finally removed that major monkey from her back in Melbourne. The Dane defeated Simona Halep in a gripping final to lift her most significant career title.

The 28-year-old did not maintain that early form in the rest of the year’s grand slams but there were profitable weeks in Eastbourne and Beijing.

This will be Wozniacki’s sixth WTA Finals and she is defending champion after beating Halep, Svitolina, Pliskova and Venus Williams last year.

Expect the former no. 1 to have a big say in the destination of the title.

Angelique Kerber – World No. 3 – 4/1

After a fallow period in 2017, the German returned to top form this season under the guidance of coach Wim Fissette.

Surprisingly, on the verge of the WTA Finals, Kerber and coach split and that could hinder her chances of success this week.

The clear highlight of the 30-year-old’s season was that straight sets defeat of Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final.

This will be Kerber’s fifth time at the WTA Finals. She has thrice lost in the round robin stage but made the final in 2016 where she fell to Dominika Cibulkova.

Naomi Osaka – World No 4 – 4/1

Naomi Osaka’s ascent from promising newcomer to major champion has been one of the stories of the 2018 season.

Her resounding victory over Serena WIlliams in the US Open final, and all the rancour that surrounded it, will be hard to dislodge from the memory bank.

Earlier in the spring, Osaka shocked everyone when she demolished an elite field in Indian Wells to claim her first WTA title.

Osaka’s strong form has continued since New York with runs to the final of Tokyo and semis of Beijing.

The Japanese is a definite contender in her first WTA Finals outing.

Tennis – China Open – Women’s Singles – Third Round – National Tennis Center, Beijing, China – October 4, 2018. Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic in action against Qiang Wang of China. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Karolina Pliskova – World No.5 – 13/2

Titles in Stuttgart and Tokyo were the Czech’s best weeks in 2018 as she struggled to impose herself on the slams.

Part of the reason for Pliskova’s underperformance lies with her serve. So long one of the best weapons on tour, the Czech’s ace count has dropped significantly compared to recent seasons.

This will be Pliskova’s third outing at the WTA Finals. She exited in the group stage in 2016 and made the last four 12 months ago.

Singapore is expected to play fast which should favour a first-strike player like the 26-year-old.

Elina Svitolina – World No.6 – 15/2

The 24-year-old continued to rack up tour titles (Brisbane, Rome) in 2018 but a run to the last eight in Melbourne was her deepest major run.

The Asian swing has not gone well for the Ukrainian with only one two wins garnered from events in Wuhan, Beijing and Hong Kong.

In her first WTA Finals outing last year, Svitolina exited in the group stage. She looks set to repeat that outcome unless her form increases significantly.

Aug 17, 2018; Mason, OH, USA; Petra Kvitova (CZE) returns a shot against Elise Mertens (BEL) in the Western and Southern tennis open at Lindner Family Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Petra Kvitova – World No.7 – 5/1

No tennis player has been more admirable in 2018 than the inspirational Czech, though Juan Martin del Potro runs pretty close.

Just two years after her terrible knife attack, the 28-year-old can look back on one of her finest seasons.

The two-time Wimbledon champ notched five trophies across three surfaces this year in St. Petersburg, Doha, Prague, Madrid and Birmingham.

This will be Kvitova’s sixth time at the WTA Finals and though her form has been ropey in recent weeks, I think she could be a real factor here on quick courts.

She won the title on her debut in 2011 and made the final again four years later.

Aug 9, 2018; Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Sloane Stephens of the United States hits a shot against Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain (not pictured) during the Rogers Cup tennis tournament at Stade IGA. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Sloane Stephens – World No.8 – 11/2

It’s been a topsy turvy year for the uber-talented American.

Stephens went into a funk after the 2017 US Open and that continued well into the new season. The 25-year-old only won her first match in February.

She sprang into life in Miami with impressive wins over Garbine Muguruza, Kerber and Jelena Ostapenko in the final. A run to the final of Roland Garros added more gloss to a year peppered with surprising losses.

What Sloane shall we witness in her WTA Finals debut?

Kiki Bertens – World No.10 – 12/1

One of the breakout players of the season, Bertens debuts at the WTA Finals in place of Halep.

With three titles in 2018 including a Premier 5, Bertens will be a formidable threat in Singapore.

Primarily known for her clay court prowess, the 26-year-old showed her versatility on the Cincinnati hard. Bertens beat four top 10 players (Wozniacki, Svitolina, Kvitova and Halep) to take the title in an impressive week.

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