WTA

WTA Finals: Rising and resurgent stars collide at 50th year-ending championships

By Sports Desk November 10, 2021

The 2021 WTA Finals look set to be a fitting end to a fascinating season on the Tour.

The 50th year-ending championships, which will take place in Guadalajara instead of Shenzhen due to coronavirus restrictions, will see eight of the top-10 ranked players come together in two round-robin groups, with four semi-final places up for grabs.

Six of the eight competitors will make their debuts at the event, while only two grand slam finalists from this year – and just one champion – will be present. With world number one Ash Barty withdrawing because of concerns around possible quarantine issues, it really does feel like an open draw.

Stats Perform looks at the eight Finalists and the key data you need to know before the action gets underway...

Group Chichen Itza

Aryna Sabalenka (1)

World number two Sabalenka is the top-ranked competitor in Guadalajara, with 44 match wins this year and titles in Abu Dhabi and Madrid, where she beat Barty.

The Belarusian boasts formidable weapons: Sabalenka has won 71.1 per cent of first-serve points and has an average of 8.4 forehand winners per match on the Tour this season, both of which are best figures among the eight Finalists.

She has only played two matches since losing to Leylah Fernandez in the US Open semi-finals, though, both of which were at last month's Kremlin Cup in Moscow.

Did you know? Since the start of 2018, Sabalenka has won the joint-most matches (three) in WTA Tour main draws after losing the first set 0-6. At the same time, she is 9-13 in three-set contests in 2021.

 

Maria Sakkari (4)

The nearly-woman of 2021, Sakkari has reached more semi-finals this year (seven) than anyone else on the WTA Tour, including at two of the four slams, but made it to just one final (in Ostrava, where she lost to Anett Kontaveit).

Still, this has been a historic year for the 26-year-old, who became the first Greek woman to reach a major semi-final, enter the top 10 and qualify for the season-ending championship.

Since the start of the US Open, Sakkari has lost only four of 14 matches, a run that includes the semi-final of the Kremlin Cup where she retired due to dizziness.

Did you know? Nobody has won more Tour-level matches against top-10 opponents this year than Sakkari (seven, level with Barty and Jessica Pegula). Before 2021, her record in such matches was 10-13.

 

Iga Swiatek (5)

Swiatek, the 2020 French Open champion, is the youngest competitor at these Finals at 20 years and 170 days old (as of the tournament's end). She is just the second player born this century to reach this event, after Bianca Andreescu in 2019.

Although unable to get beyond the quarter-finals of a major this year, Swiatek did win titles in Adelaide and Rome, where she inflicted a double bagel on Karolina Pliskova in the final.

Her success in Australia was her first on a hard court, a surface on which she won 19 of 28 matches this year.

Did you know? Swiatek has won 58 per cent (28 of 48) of her matches this season in straight sets, the highest ratio among the Finalists.

 

Paula Badosa (7)

A successful year for Badosa has been built on clay: she won a Tour-leading 17 matches on the dirt in 2021, reaching the French Open quarter-finals, the last four in Madrid and Charleston and winning the title in Belgrade.

This has been a breakthrough season for the 23-year-old across all surfaces, though, one that culminated in a record-breaking three-set win over Victoria Azarenka in the final at Indian Wells last month.

Badosa clinched that match after a third-set tie-break. She has won four deciding sets in that fashion this year, the most of anyone on the WTA Tour.

Did you know? Badosa has won seven matches (excluding the Olympics) after dropping the first set in 2021. Nobody else has as many come-from-behind victories among the Finalists.

 

Group Teotihuacan

Barbora Krejcikova (2)

The only major singles champion from 2021 at these Finals, Krejcikova has enjoyed a remarkable rise this year.

Along with success at Roland Garros, where she also triumphed in the doubles, the Czech won titles in Strasbourg and Prague; only world number one Barty (five) and Kontaveit (four) have won more this year.

Among the eight finalists, Krejcikova boasts the highest break-point conversion ratio (49.7 per cent, or 142/286) and break-point saved figure (66.4 per cent, or 150/226) for this season. She has become a clutch competitor and will be hard to stop in Mexico, both in the singles and the doubles.

Did you know? Krejcikova has won six matches against top-20 opponents in her career. All six of those wins were in 2021.

 

Karolina Pliskova (3)

Pliskova boasts impressive experience of the year-ending event: she is only the fourth player to qualify for five or more WTA Finals since the current format was introduced in 2003 (after Agnieszka Radwanska, Petra Kvitova and Azarenka).

Beaten in her three Tour finals this year, including Wimbledon, the 29-year-old will be desperate to go at least one better than her three consecutive semi-final appearances at this event.

Pliskova begins against Garbine Muguruza, a player she has beaten twice before at the season-ending tournament.

Did you know? Pliskova leads the Tour for aces this season with 364, hitting a year-best 21 in her round-of-16 match with Jelena Ostapenko in Stuttgart. It's the fourth time in the past six seasons Pliskova has been top of the aces standings.

 

Garbine Muguruza (6)

This is the first time since 2000 that two Spanish players have contested the Finals. Back then, it was Conchita Martinez and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Muguruza, champion in Dubai and Chicago this year, has won more matches on hard courts (34) than anyone else in 2021 aside from Kontaveit. She also boasts the best average for successful net approaches this year (3.0) among the Finalists, which will make her a challenging obstacle in what will be her first Finals since 2017.

The former world number won made a career-high four Tour finals this year and won more than one trophy in a season for just the second time, sending her back into the top 10 for the first time since 2018. 

Did you know? Muguruza boasts a 10-1 record in WTA tournaments in Mexico, winning back-to-back titles in Monterrey in 2018 and 2019.

 

Anett Kontaveit (8)

With a Tour-leading 37 hard-court wins this year and on a formidable run of form, Kontaveit could spring a surprise at her first Finals.

After losing her fifth match in a row to Ons Jabeur on August 17, the Estonian went on a run of 26 wins from 28 matches, lifted four titles and broke into the top 10 for the first time. It was Jabeur she edged out for a place at this tournament after she won her fourth title of the year at Cluj-Napoca.

Along with Barty, Kontaveit is the only player to reach six Tour-level finals this year, while nobody at the season-ending tournament has won more titles (four).

Did you know? Kontaveit has hit the most backhand winners (293) on hard courts on the WTA Tour in 2021, averaging nearly six per match.

 

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