By Melissa Boyd
It is the reward for a year of excellence, earning one of the eight coveted spots in the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships in Istanbul. The places have been filled and the players have arrived ready for action to begin on Tuesday.
Given their form during the second half of the season, Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams are the clear favourites in Turkey. Azarenka comes in on another impressive win streak, having won her last two tournaments in convincing fashion at Beijing and Linz. The Belarusian has locked up the no. 1 ranking for 2012 and would love nothing more than finish the year exactly the same way she started it, with a bang. Williams hasn’t played a match since capturing her second Grand Slam title of the year at the U.S. Open in September. The American hasn’t been much for late season tennis in her career, but her opponents know that she’s a serious threat every time her name is in the draw. Williams is a two-time champion of the Tour Championships including the last time she played the event in 2009 when she beat her sister Venus in the final.
Maria Sharapova should not be forgotten when discussing the title contenders. The Russian has arguably been the WTA’s most consistent player this year, winning 56 of the 66 matches she has played and reaching the quarter-finals or better in 12 of 13 tournaments. However, Sharapova’s 1-6 record against Azarenka and Williams this year will be a tough mental hurdle to overcome should she have to face one or both of the them this week. It’s amazing to think that the last time Sharapova beat Williams was in the Tour Championships final eight years ago in 2004.
There are five very good players with ambitions of taking down the ‘big three’ of women’s tennis in Istanbul led by defending champion Petra Kvitova who picked up the trophy in her first appearance. The Czech’s powerful game is made all the more lethal indoors. World no. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska has enjoyed the best season of her career in 2012, winning a career-high 57 matches. Na Li qualified for the second consecutive year while Angelique Kerber and Sara Errani will both be making their debut.
For the first time in WTA Championships history, the eight qualifiers represent eight different qualifiers, giving the prestigious season-ending event an unprecedented international flavour that showcases the true diversity of the game.