Exciting battle for WTA Finals berths
Fresh faces and some veteran champions set for an intense battle to qualify for WTA Finals
For the third year in succession, Simona Halep will be battling for one of the biggest prizes in women's tennis after she qualified for WTA's crown jewel event - the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
The Romanian world No. 5 beat Madison Keys in the quarter-finals of the Wuhan Open yesterday to join world No. 1 Angelique Kerber and Serena Williams as qualifiers for the US$7 million ($9.6m) WTA Finals, which features the top eight singles players and doubles pairs battling for honours at the Indoor Stadium from Oct 23 to 30.
There are five places up for grabs, with several potential first-time qualifiers in the mix like Karolina Pliskova, Dominika Cibulkova, Carla Suarez-Navarro, Johanna Konta and Keys.
Further down the leaderboard there are also former Grand Slam champions Svetlana Kuznetsova and Venus Williams, who are fighting for a spot in Singapore next month.
The final places could very well be decided in the week before the WTA Finals, given the number of quality contenders right on the cusp of the top eight.
Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki played in the inaugural tournament in Singapore in 2014. Currently at No. 20 on the Road to Singapore leaderboard, most would count Wozniacki out, but a flawless run in the next couple of tournaments could catapult her into contention to qualify for this year's elite women's finale.
The return to form of the former world No. 1 is certainly exciting news.
Wozniacki is playing well again and looks like she's setting herself up for a strong showing next year, as well as a ticket here for the climax of the 2017 season.
The 26-year-old made the semi-finals of the US Open last month, and won her first title since March last year when she lifted the Toray Pan Pacific Open trophy in Japan at the weekend.
The Dane has bounced back after a string of injuries and is really playing with a lot of confidence and composure now.
She has said that the difference has probably been the mental side of her game.
She is putting a lot less pressure on herself, and that is really important for an athlete.
Obviously, professional athletes must take what they do seriously, it is their livelihood, after all, but players must also enjoy what they are doing and not focus solely on the outcome.
The ability to strike such a balance only comes with experience.
Of course, the likes of Keys, 21, Konta, 25, and 24-year-old Pliskova are fresh faces and it just goes to show the amazing depth in women's tennis right now that they are so close to making the top eight on the Road to Singapore leaderboard.
On the other hand, the presence of the Williams sisters and Kerber reflects the longevity in women's tennis today.
While Wozniacki became the world No. 1 when she was just 21, Kerber became the oldest player to reach the top of the rankings for the first time when she overtook Serena earlier this month, so I believe the women's game is evolving.
The intense competition for places in the WTA Finals also shows how good Kerber and Serena have been this season to have qualified ahead of the pack.
Whoever is in the final eight, the Romanian star and American icon will be the favourites for the WTA Finals next month, but, at this level, when you're talking about the top players in the world, it really could be anyone's title.
The WTA Finals is our most prestigious tournament, the crown jewel on our annual calendar where you have the biggest prize purse in the sport on the line.
Every match at the Indoor Stadium wears the prospect of a Grand Slam final, with an electric atmosphere and tremendous excitement.
It has been that way the last two years and it promises to be the same next month, especially with so many exciting names battling hard to book their ticket to Singapore.
- Canadian Melissa Pine is a former NCAA player and a columnist for The New Paper. She is the vice-president of WTA Asia-Pacific and also the tournament director of the WTA Finals. Held in Singapore from 2014 to 2018, the 10-day tennis extravaganza showcases the world's top-eight singles players and doubles teams competing for a grand prize of US$7 million ($9.6m). For more information on the event, visit www.wtafinals.com