Halep and Sharapova drawn in tough group
Great excitement as two top guns drawn together for opening stage of WTA Finals
It drew oohs and aahs from the crowd, and a few gasps as well.
But, when Singapore Tourism Board chief executive Lionel Yeo drew top seed Simona Halep and five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova in the same group for the season-ending BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, it hardly drew a reaction from either player.
From the reaction of the 600-strong crowd at the public tournament draw at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands skating rink yesterday, Halep and Sharapova look to be the local favourites, with defending champion Serena Williams absent through injury.
Both played it cool when they were drawn in the Red Group, along with Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska and newly minted US Open champion Flavia Pennetta of Italy but, when they do meet on court at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, expect fireworks as the Romanian and Russian vie to finish off the year in style.
The White Group features 22-year-old Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, a finalist at this year's Wimbledon, US Open quarter-finalist Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, German Angelique Keber and Ukrainian Lucie Safarova, who qualified for the Finals barely 24 hours before the draw was conducted.
The WTA Finals - which features the top eight singles players and doubles teams - opens with a round-robin stage, and the top two players in each group advance to the semi-finals.
Their mouth-watering clash between Halep, the world No. 2, and No. 3 ranked Sharapova is clearly the pick of the 12 round-robin matches that will be played among the eight finalists, but they won't have it all their own way in their group.
Radwanska, 26, reached the semi-finals of last year's WTA Finals and has good momentum after winning the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo last month, and then the Tianjin Open last weekend.
Pennetta, 33, meanwhile, enjoyed a fairytale run at the US Open last month - winning at Flushing Meadows for her first Grand Slam.
She also achieved a career-high world ranking of sixth.
Matches kick off tomorrow at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, while tournaments such as the Legends Classic and Rising Stars Invitational will run alongside the 10-day event.
Melissa Pine, tournament director of the WTA Finals and vice-president of WTA Asia Pacific, said "Gosh, the player field here is exceptional.
"Every single one of these players is an incredible athlete, they're the best in the world.
"It certainly looks like an exciting top half of the draw.
"Simona, Maria, Radwanska, Flavia... These are women who have won so many titles, so it will really be exciting to see who emerges from both sides.
"It's really anybody's title this year."
- Simona Halep (Romania)
- Maria Sharapova (Russia)
- Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland)
- Flavia Pennetta (Italy)
- Garbine Muguruza (Spain)
- Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic)
- Angelique Kerber (Germany)
- Lucie Safarova (Czech Republic)