WTA Championships: Istanbul

Istanbul, known for its beautiful mosques and picturesque Marmara Sea, is one of the most historical cities in the world. This popular tourist destination will be home this week to the top women’s tennis players, as the WTA Championships get underway.

The premier event, with its round-robin format, is a welcome departure for the players and fans alike from the regular knockout system on tour. The top eight women were separated into two pools of four at the draw ceremony on Sunday. World number one Serena Williams leads the red group followed by Pole Agnieszka Radwanska, 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and German Angelique Kerber. The white group is led by Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka with China’s Li Na, Italian Sara Errani and former world number one Jelena Jankovic completing the line-up. Glamour girl Maria Sharapova is the notable absentee this week. The world number three is nursing a right shoulder injury that forced her to miss the U.S Open last month and has been a problem throughout her career.

17 time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams seems to be getting better with age. At 32, Williams is playing the tennis of her life and is head and shoulders above the rest of the field. Having bagged the French and U.S Open titles this year, she is guaranteed to end the year as the world number one for the third time in her career. The American already has a win under her belt, when she beat Kerber on the opening day of the championships. It will be a monumental task on the part of the rest of the pack to topple the defending champion this week.

World number two Victoria Azarenka poses the biggest challenge to Serena’s title hopes. The steely Belarusian beat Williams twice this year in Cincinnati and Doha. She has managed to cement her place at the top of the women’s game and has the guns to add to her two Australian Open titles. Her off-court romance with ‘Party Rock Anthem’ hit maker Redfoo and her sense of humor on court make her a regular feature in the news. Azarenka kick started her bid for the Istanbul title with a straight sets win over Sara Errani on Tuesday.

There was an upset on the opening day of the championships as third seed Radwanska went down to Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova. The crafty Pole is one of the smartest players on tour and has often been compared to Martina Hingis for her playing style. However, she lacks the firepower and weapons so important in the game today. Kvitova, on the other hand, has plenty of power. The lefty, who was a runner-up here in 2011, boosted her chances to qualify for the semis with her win over Radwanska.

China’s number one Li Na got her bid for the title off to the perfect start with a win over the diminutive Italian Errani on Wednesday. Li takes the ball early and on the rise which is very effective indoors. Her partnership with Justine Henin’s former coach, Carlos Rodriguez, has been successful so far but she realizes she has a tough week ahead of her. “In the Championships, no one ever has an easy draw. You have to be ready when you come to the court. It’s a big challenge,” Li said.

Errani finds herself doing double duty this week as she is featuring in the doubles event as well with partner Roberta Vinci. The pair is the best doubles team in the world. She might have a more successful run in the doubles draw as the Italian lost both her singles group matches.

Serbian Jelena Jankovic is playing at the year-end championships after a gap of three years. She began the season outside the top 20 and is happy with the way she was able to turn her year around. “I think this year has been great for me as far as coming back and making that step forward,” Jankovic said during her run to the final in Beijing. Reaching the Championships is a great achievement for me. In January, I thought it wasn’t even my goal as I didn’t think I could make it.”

So the stage is set for the women as they feature in their final tournament of the year before heading into the off season. Who will have the last laugh? My money is on Serena but stranger things have happened in the world of tennis and who knows, they may happen this week!

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