A transformational season on the WTA Tour comes to an end this coming week with the year-end championships. The 2019 WTA Finals start on Sunday and will be held in China (Shenzhen) for the first time.
This edition is particularly exciting because we have three outstanding debutants in world no.1 and Roland Garros champ Ash Barty, US Open winner Bianca Andreescu, and the revitalised Belinda Bencic.
The draw was made on Friday with the top eight players divided up into two groups of four: Red and Purple. The top two in each group qualify for the knockout rounds. Barty is in the Red Group along with Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova and Bencic. The Purple Group comprises world no.2 Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep, Andreescu and the defending champion, Elina Svitolina.
Barty makes her debut at the Finals after a brilliant campaign that saw her jump from 15 in the world in January to the very top. A first major title in Paris and further success in Miami were particular highlights for the versatile Aussie. The 23-year-old comes to Shenzhen in good form with seven wins from her last nine matches.
Naomi Osaka makes her second appearance in the Finals after a topsy turvy season. The Japanese started the year strongly with a second major title in Melbourne before her form dipped. Osaka is back on song now though and is on a 10-match winning streak after titles in Osaka and Beijing.
Petra Kvitova is the most experienced player in this year’s field as she makes her seventh appearance in the event. The Australian Open finalist likes this format having won (2011) and finished runner-up (2015) in the past.
The Red Group is rounded out by another debutant in Belinda Bencic. The 22-year-old has had a stellar year with two titles (Dubai, Moscow) and deep runs at the US Open, Indian Wells and Madrid. Bencic won’t be intimidated by the field in Shenzhen as she boasts nine top ten wins already in 2019.
Red Group Winner – Naomi Osaka @ 15/8
The head-to-head records are mixed across the board in this group so I’m going with the most in-form player here. Top spot is likely to be between Osaka and Barty but the Japanese won their last encounter (Beijing) and I favour her again this week @ 15/8.
Red Group Outsider – Belinda Bencic @ 7/2
It may be her debut but the Swiss has a great chance to upset the field. Bencic comes here off the back of a title win in Moscow and will particularly look forward to the clash with Osaka. The 22-year-old commands an impressive 3-1 record in their head-to-head.
Karolina Pliskova is one of only two players (with Barty) to earn 50 wins this year and she leads this group as world no.2. 2019 has been another excellent season for the steady Czech with four titles and strong runs in Miami and Melbourne. Pliskova is a two-time semifinalist at the WTA Finals.
Wimbledon champion Simona Halep will look to improve on her 2014 WTA FInals performance when she finished runner-up to Serena Williams. That may be a tall order though for the Romanian given her disappointing results in recent tournaments.
Bianca Andreescu makes the WTA Tour’s year-end extravaganza for the first time but she’s likely to stay for quite some time. The Canadian can look back on a spectacular 2019 season where she rose from outside the top 100 to just inside the top five. The US Open champion is oozing in confidence with 16 wins from her last 17 matches.
The Purple Group’s impressive cast is rounded out by the defending champion, Elina Svitolina. Apart from an injury-hampered Spring, 2019 has been another eerily consistent campaign for the Ukrainian. Svitolina will be particularly delighted with her strong runs in three of the four majors.
Purple Group Winner – Bianca Andreescu @ 15/8
An extraordinary talent in full bloom, Andreescu is a wonderful addition to the WTA’s elite eight. Given her recent form and winning record against both Pliskova and Svitolina, I fancy the 19-year-old to top the group.
Purple Group Outsider – Elina Svitolina @ 3/1
With Pliskova and Halep struggling for wins in the build-up to Shenzhen, Svitolina has a great opportunity to advance here. The 25-year-old will also be encouraged by her tight head-to-head record with Pliskova and Halep.
WTA Best Bets:
Bianca Andreescu to win Purple Group @ 15/8
Naomi Osaka to win Red Group @ 15/8
Elina Svitolina to win Purple Group @ 3/1
Belinda Bencic to win Red Group @ 7/2