Tennis

No Serena but WTA Finals in Singapore still poised for intriguing contest

There are moves to make it bigger, better and more enjoyable for tennis fans, but there is one absolute certainty when the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global comes to the Republic for the fourth time this October.

Serena Williams will not be here. The world No. 1 is pregnant with her first child and will not play in any tournament for the rest of the year, but the WTA season-ender is still poised to be an intriguing contest.

"Any sport will need big stars, and tennis is no different... (but) there is a lot of depth (in women's tennis), without a doubt," said former world No. 1 Kim Clijsters.

Yesterday, the 33-year-old was unveiled as an ambassador for the WTA Finals, and she was speaking at the launch of ticket sales for the WTA Finals, held at the sidelines of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart.

"I enjoy seeing the new names and there are still players on Tour I used to play against - I enjoy the variety… I want to see if they can push the bar higher," she said, pointing to the likes of Johanna Konta, Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Wozniacki as players to watch this season, as the Road to Singapore heats up.

Case in point: Dominika Cibulkova.

The 27-year-old Slovakian is the defending WTA Finals champion, and her heart-on-sleeve performances en route to winning the Billie Jean King Trophy last year won over many fans.

And she is already thinking of consolidating her spot in the absence of Williams.

"(Williams' absence) opens a different way for players and I'm one of them," said world No. 4 Cibulkova, admitting that she is still getting used to her position in the upper echelons of women's tennis. "(The win) changed the way I see myself. I have more expectations for myself - now I know I'm able to win, and I can be one of the really top players in the world. Hopefully, I get a chance in Singapore again."

One of the best moments in Simona Halep's career came in Singapore in 2014, the first time the Republic hosted the event.

She crushed Williams 6-0, 6-2 in the group stage of the WTA Finals then, but went on to lose to the American in the final.

"I played my best tennis there, I beat Serena, one of my best matches in my career," said the Romanian.

"She's the best player in the world in my opinion, and tennis will miss Serena - when she plays, stadiums are always full.

"But it won't be just Serena in the draw... There are many players coming up and they are strong and they work hard - I work hard, too."

The depth in the WTA Tour is something chief executive Steve Simon agrees with, and he is expecting more when the event returns to Singapore.

"We've had three terrific years, and we expect the fourth to be even better... it's all about improving and the pursuit of excellence," he said, although he was non-commital on whether the event will return to the Republic after the contract runs out after the 2018 edition.

"We are looking to the future for 2019 and beyond, two more years in Singapore. We've certainly had great discussions with them, and Singapore is certainly an option for the future as well - we've had a great experience there," said Simon.

"But we also will see what other opportunities might be in the marketplace for us as well." - SHAMIR OSMAN

WTA finalsserena williamstennis