The regular WTA season has been done and dusted and the 2017 WTA Finals is currently underway in Singapore, but the final event of the year would be the second-tier year-end Championships at Zhuhai. Being voted as the most “livable” city of China, the beautiful city of Zhuhai will hold the WTA Elite Trophy for the third consecutive year with its first edition coming in 2015. Venus Williams was the first-ever champion of this tournament.
After a year of battle between the players, the field for the WTA Elite Trophy is finally set with the elite players looking the end their impressive season on a high note. It was originally supposed to be the 11 players in the ninth to 19th position on the Porsche Race to Singapore qualifying for the event, coupled with one wildcard recipient.
However, it was later found out that Wimbledon semifinalist, Johanna Konta, world number 11 Svetlana Kuznetsova and the US Open finalist Madison Keys have all withdrawn from the competition due to ongoing injury issues.
Mladenovic comes in as the top seed
Helped by Konta’s withdrawal, Kristina Mladenovic will now be the top seed in Zhuhai. The Frenchwoman had just recently broken into the top-10 of the rankings for the first time in her career despite being on an unbelievable 10-match losing streak, with her last win dating all the way back to July. Mladenovic had a strong first half of the year, winning her first title in St. Petersburg before runner-up finishes in Acapulco, Stuttgart and Madrid, coupled with strong performances in Indian Wells and the French Open.
Americans lead the charge
There would be two Americans participating as two-time Grand Slam semifinalist Coco Vandeweghe and US Open champion Sloane Stephens are slated to be top four seeds. Vandeweghe had a quiet season this year, reaching the semifinals in Melbourne and New York coupled with another quarterfinal appearance at the Wimbledon Championships. Stephens had an incredible comeback from an 11-month layoff due to a foot injury, reaching the semifinals in Toronto and Cincinnati before sealing it with a title at the US Open, defeating compatriot Madison Keys in the final.
Russians look to cause some trouble
The Russian contingent will only consist of two players as Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Elena Vesnina would look to keep the Russian flag flying high in Zhuhai. Pavlyuchenkova has finally re-entered the top-15 after years of absence, claiming three titles in an eventful year before losing in the final at Tokyo. She also managed to record good performances in Melbourne and Indian Wells this year. Vesnina’s year is undoubtedly highlighted by her triumph in Indian Wells, defeating many quality players in succession to take home the biggest title of her career thus far.
Sevastova qualifies for the first time
Anastasija Sevastova would also make her debut in the Elite Trophy, having broken into the top-20 in July this year. Some consistent performances saw the Latvian reach the last four in Dubai before an excellent clay court season, reaching three consecutive quarterfinals. Sevastova claimed the title on the grass of Mallorca before yet another good run to the quarterfinals of the US Open, defeating Maria Sharapova along the way.
Germans hoping to end off the year on a high note
New German number one Julia Goerges will look to continue her good run of form after claiming her first title in six years in Moscow last week, sealing her qualification for Zhuhai. Goerges was a huge threat to the top players this year, having defeated Caroline Wozniacki to reach the semifinals in Auckland before outlasting world number four Elina Svitolina in Cincinnati for a run to the last eight. Goerges also reached the finals in Bucharest, Mallorca, and Washington, but was unable to win any of them.
Ending the year as the world number one and the WTA Finals runner-up in 2016, Angelique Kerber’s dramatic loss of form saw her fall out of the top-10 as she failed to defend her two Grand Slam titles and exited in the first round of both Roland Garros and US Open, but fourth-round appearances in Melbourne and Wimbledon allowed her to have a respectable ranking. Semifinal appearances in Tokyo and Dubai coupled along with a runner-up finish in Monterrey were highlights of her season.
Comeback players looking for a good run
Youngster Ashleigh Barty will make her debut in this event after breaking into the top-20 for the first time in her career, having claimed the first WTA title of her career in Kuala Lumpur and she stormed to the final in Birmingham, defeating Garbine Muguruza in the process. She also had good runs in Cincinnati and Toronto before reaching the biggest final of her career at the Wuhan Open, a Premier 5 event.
Another comeback player in Magdalena Rybarikova just makes the cut to qualify for the title after an impressive comeback. Clinching several ITF titles, the Slovakian returned with a semifinal appearance in Nottingham, and most importantly her first Major semifinal at Wimbledon. Her spot in Zhuhai was sealed after she impressively reached the final in Linz.
Strycova qualifies for the second consecutive year
Rybarikova’s conqueror in Linz, Barbora Strycova, has also successfully qualified for the Elite Trophy. A year of consistent results saw the Czech reach the second week of the Australian Open before claiming three semifinal appearances in Sydney, Biel-Bienne, and Prague respectively. A quarterfinal appearance at the China Open was followed by just the second WTA title of her career in Linz, ending the year as the 23rd ranked player in the Porsche Race to Singapore leaderboard, which allowed her to sneak in as the last qualified player with some withdrawals.
Peng receives a wildcard
The lone wild card recipient would be the top-ranked local player, Peng Shuai. The Chinese came close to qualifying but finished 27th, just four places away from the final qualifying spot. Peng claimed the title in Nanchang in front of her home crowd, and she also reached the final of the Taiwan Open before some good runs in Strasbourg and Tianjin, clinching semifinal appearances in both events.