The WTA Elite Trophy, the closing WTA tournament to the season, took proceedings last week in Zhuhai, which entered its second year hosting the secondary-tier year-end championships. Czech number two Petra Kvitova continued her hot streak as the Czech enacted a flawless record in the southern Chinese city en route to claiming her 19th career title. The result assures Kvitova a top 15 finish to 2016, having come close to falling out of the top 20 two months ago.
Last week’s titlist
Double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova finished the 2015 season with three titles and a runner-up showing at the WTA Finals and then helped her nation to victory in the Fed Cup final over Russia. Also, the Czech recorded another top 10 finish to the season for the fifth year running, ending the year as world number six.
Kvitova started 2016 in Shenzhen but she came upon a stumbling block as gastrointestinal illness interrupted her early season charge, forcing her to retire midway through her opening match against Zheng Saisai. Entering the Australian Open with no completed matches under her belt, a fourth straight premature exit at the year's first Grand Slam did not come as surprise as Kvitova crashed out in the second round after a straight set defeat to an inspired Daria Gavrilova.
On Fed Cup duty in the opening round tie against Romania, Kvitova suffered another setback as she dropped both her singles rubbers, something that has never happened before in her career but Czech Republic nevertheless advanced to the last four with a scoreline of 3-2. Like last year, the Middle-Eastern swing did not bear much fruit for the Czech as well as she won just one match through Dubai and Doha.
Then, at the BNP Paribas Open in March, Kvitova looked to have finally started picking up steam as she scored back-to-back wins for the first time since the 2015 US Open, making her first quarterfinal of the year in the process. An early loss in Miami the following week did not come as surprise, given her struggles with humidity there in the past. The Czech kept up this momentum by reaching the Stuttgart semifinals to kick off her clay court campaign.
Her resurgence however abruptly came to a halt as she failed to defend her title in Madrid, falling out to Gavrilova in the last 16. Kvitova then dropped her opening match in Rome to Madison Keys and at the French Open, suffered a puzzling loss in the hands of Shelby Rogers in the third round.
Turning over to grass, her most-loved surface, Kvitova’s woes did not heal either as she failed to produce a positive record on the lawns, for the first time since 2009, winning just one match in each of her three tournaments on it including the Wimbledon Championships. The Czech’s 2016 record stood at a lamentable 16-15 after Wimbledon concluded.
Returning to action late July at the Rogers Cup, Kvitova scored successive wins for the first time since the French Open to reach the last 16 but was defeated by Svetlana Kuznetsova. Having made the quarterfinals of the London Olympics in 2012, she looked to back up that result at the Rio Olympics this year and did just that, going one round better to reach the last four. There, the Czech succumbed to eventual gold medallist Monica Puig but rebounded well to beat Keys for the bronze medal, her first Olympic medal. Kvitova concluded the US Open Series strong, reaching the last four in New Haven and then the round of 16 at the US Open, where she was beaten by eventual champion Angelique Kerber.
Her start to the Asian swing began in Tokyo though did not go as planned as she fell at the second hurdle to Puig. However, this did not seem to bother Kvitova as she charged to her first title at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open the following week, defeating the equally in-form Dominika Cibulkova in the final. This result was followed by a quarterfinal showing at the China Open where she came up short to Keys. The Czech then competed in Luxembourg as the top seed and fared well, reaching the final where she was beaten by Monica Niculescu.
The loss to Keys in Beijing put an end to Kvitova’s chances of making it to the WTA Finals for the sixth year running but nevertheless, she became the first player to seal her spot here in Zhuhai, which will mark her debut appearance. Entering the tournament as the third seed, she headed the Peony Group with fifth seed Roberta Vinci and ninth seed Barbora Strycova placed in the same group as her.
Kvitova sailed past both players unscathed to secure her semifinal berth. There, she defeated 12th seed and wildcard Zhang Shuai to reach her third final of the season. Her serve was yet to be broken entering the final where she faced fourth seed Elina Svitolina. The Czech faced early spells of trouble but rebounded well, coming back from a break down in the opening set to score her sixth consecutive win over the Ukrainian, winning it 6-4, 6-2.
Kvitova did not drop a single set all week in Zhuhai, making it the first time since winning the Connecticut Open in 2014 where she won a title without the loss of a single set. This title makes 2016 the sixth year running where she has collected multiple titles in a single season. Moreover, having won the WTA Finals on debut in 2011, the two-time Grand Slam winner became the first player ever to win both categories of year-end championships in her first appearance. Since going 16-15 in the first half of this year, Kvitova has since won 30 of her last 37 matches.
The week in Zhuhai saw all 12 seeds split into groups of three. The top four seeds impressed as all four secured their place in the semifinals with the exception being second seed Carla Suárez Navarro, who withdrew pre-tournament with a wrist injury. The Spaniard was replaced by an alternate, the 13th seed Timea Babos. In the last four, Kvitova moved past Zhang while Svitolina upset top seed Johanna Konta in three sets. Other seeds who left Zhuhai with a win under their belt were sixth seed Timea Bacsinszky, seventh seed Elena Vesnina, Strycova and 11th seed Caroline Garcia.
Konta closes out the year-end rankings at number 10, the first British woman to finish a season in the top 10 since Jo Durie in 1983. Right behind the Brit is Zhuhai champion Kvitova, who rises from 13th to conclude the year ranked 11th. Bacsinszky moves up three spots from 18th to cap off the year-end top 15 rankings. Coming after the Swiss is Vesnina, who goes up three places and ends 2016 at a new career-high ranking of 16th. Strycova improves one spot from 21st to conclude the year-end top 20 rankings.
On the other hand, Venus Williams, who was the defending champion in Zhuhai, falls two spots to 17th after opting to skip the tournament. Last year’s semifinalist in Zhuhai Roberta Vinci dips from 17th to 18th after failing to match last year’s result when she exited at the round robin stage.
This week’s action
The Fed Cup final takes place this weekend as hosts France take on the two-time defending champions, the Czech Republic. Located in the northeastern French city of Strasbourg, the Rhenus Sport Arena will see both teams battle out for the trophy.