2012 WTA Championship: Ranking the Elite 8 Women's Field in Istanbul

JA AllenSenior Writer IOctober 19, 2012

2012 WTA Championship: Ranking the Elite 8 Women's Field in Istanbul

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    The WTA Year-End Championship will begin on Oct. 23 in Istanbul at the Sinan Erdem Dome.

    The tour moved the event to Istanbul in 2011 where it is slated to remain until 2013.

    The top eight women of 2012 have qualified for the field in Istanbul. Additionally, the top four doubles teams will also be in action vying for top honors.

    The WTA Championship was initially held in Boca Raton on outdoor clay courts. Istanbul became the 10th locale since the year-end tournament began.

    Martina Navratilova won the WTA title most often—emerging with the trophy on eight occasions. Steffi Graf followed with five titles, and Chris Evert triumphed four times.

    The eight women will be drawn into two groups where they will play a round robin format. During the first four days, each player meets the other three players in her group.

    In cases where players end the round robin matches with equal records, WTA rules define the tie-breaking measures that apply.

    The two players out of each group with the best record advance to the semifinals. There the top player in one group plays the second best player from the other group. Accordingly, the winners of each semifinal contest advance to the final.

    In 2011 Petra Kvitova won the WTA Championship defeating Victoria Azarenka 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.

    Kvitova, who made the field again in 2012, will try to recapture her title. The Czech will, however, be forced to play perfect tennis to win against such a loaded field.

    These eight ladies are at their peak after excellent seasons, and each would love to close it out by winning in Istanbul.

8. Sara Errani (Italy) 4,855 points

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    Ranked No. 8: WTA Seed No. 7

    The Italian dynamo Sara Errani made the 2012 elite eight field on Oct. 4.

    This year Errani seized control and watched her singles career soar. She reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, losing to Petra Kvitova.

    Errani won her first title of the season in Acapulco, defeating fellow Italian Flavia Pennetta in the final.

    Her next title in 2012 came at Barcelona on clay where Errani defeated Dominika Cibulkova in the final. In Budapest, the Italian secured another title this time winning over Russian Elena Vesnina.

    At the French Open, however, Errani showed her intensity and her fighting spirit. She battled all the way to the final where she lost to Maria Sharapova. But in the process she announced herself to the world. 

    After losing in the third round at Wimbledon, Errani came back to win her fourth title in Palermo.

    At the 2012 U.S. Open Errani once again advanced deep into the draw—to the semifinals where she lost to eventual champion Serena Williams.

    Errani advanced to the quarterfinals of Tokyo but went out in the first round in Beijing, ending the year with a 54-20 record and four titles.

    In her head to head with the other players in the elite eight field, Errani is 2-8. Her career record against these same players stands at 4-23.

    The little Italian will have her work cut out for her if she hopes to bring home a title from Istanbul.

    Much will depend on her draw, but Errani does not do well against the power players who can serve her off the court. There are many of them in this field.

    Because of her lack on experience in this arena and with this format—and because she is also playing doubles—Errani becomes the lowest ranked player in singles to win the WTA title.

7. Angelique Kerber (Germany) 5,470 Points

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    Ranked No. 7: WTA Seed No. 5

    The German Angelique Kerber qualified for Istanbul on Oct. 4.

    2012 was a break-out season for Kerber. She reached the semifinals of Auckland and Hobart but fell in third round of the Australian Open to Maria Sharapova.

    Kerber won her first title of the year in Paris at the GDF Suez, defeating Marion Bartoli in the final. She would win her second title in 2012 in Copenhagen by defeating Caroline Wozniacki.

    After losing in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros to Sara Errani, Kerber advanced to the finals of Eastbourne before losing to Tamira Paszek in the Wimbledon tune-up event.

    At the All England Club, the German advanced to the semifinals before losing to the No. 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska.

    At the 2012 Olympic Summer Games, Kerber lost to world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals.

    The German advanced to the finals in Cincinnati but went out the fourth round of the 2012 U.S. Open to Li Na of China.

    Kerber reached the semifinals in Tokyo and the quarterfinals in Beijing—ending the year with 60-19 record and two titles.

    In her head to head against the other elite eight field, Kerber is 6-12 in 2012. Her career record against these eight stands at 8-18.

    Much more will be known once the draw comes out. Regardless, this is Kerber's first trip to the WTA Championships. Her lack of experience plus the strength of the players she will face sees her ranked seventh to win it all in Istanbul.

6. Li Na (China) 4,726 points

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    Ranked No. 6: WTA Seed No. 8

    The former French Open champion Li Na of China made the Istanbul elite eight field on Oct. 5.

    Li Na started 2012 fast out of the gates. She reached the finals of Sydney, losing to Victoria Azarenka but lost in the fourth round to Kim Clijsters at the 2012 Australian Open.

    She reached the quarterfinals at both Indian Wells and Miami, losing to Angelique Kerber and Maria Sharapova respectively. She would reach another two quarterfinals in Stuttgart and Madrid before reaching the finals in Rome, losing to Maria Sharapova.

    As the defending champion at Roland Garros, Li Na returned to Paris with great expectations but was disappointed to be dismissed in the fourth round by Yaroslava Shvedova.

    It was not until the summer hard court season that Li Na found her form. She advanced to the finals at Montreal, losing to Petra Kvitova, but the lady from China won the title in Cincinnati, defeating Angelique Kerber in the final.

    At the 2012 U.S. Open Li was dismissed by Laura Robson in the third round.

    After losing to Caroline Wozniacki in the second round in Tokyo and reaching the finals in Beijing, Li ended the year with a 41-15 record and one title.

    In her head to head with rest of the elite eight field, Li Na is 7-8 in 2012. Her career record versus these same players is 26-23.

    Li Na is about dead-even in her head to head plus she has experience playing in this format. Her year has been good but not great. Her chances to win it all in Istanbul are a bit better. Accordingly, Li Na comes in sixth to win the WTA Championship in 2012.

5. Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland) 7,095 points

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    Ranked No. 5: WTA Seed No. 4

    Agnieszka Radwanska, who was ranked world No. 2 for part of 2012, qualified for Istanbul on Oct. 4. 

    Radwanska began the year ranked No. 8, losing her first three appearances on tour to Victoria Azarenka.

    She secured her first win at Dubai, defeating Julia Goerges in the final. After losing to Azarenka during the Indian Wells quarterfinals, Radwanska came back to win in Miami, defeating Maria Sharapova in the finals.

    Prior to the French Open, the Pole took the title in Brussels on clay.

    Radwanska fell to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the third round of the French Open but made it to the finals of Wimbledon where she lost to Serena Williams.

    After Wimbledon, the summer of 2012 was not a particularly good one for the Pole—but she did come back to make the finals in Tokyo, losing to Russian Nadia Petrova.

    Radwanska ended the year with a 57-17 record and enters Istanbul as the No. 4 seed.

    For 2012, her head-to-head record versus the rest of the elite eight field is 5-10.  For her career versus these same players, Radwanska’s record stands at 17-32.

    Winning against this field could be difficult for Radwanksa.

    With a superior game underpinned by utmost consistency and control, Radwanska has an opportunity to win this title, but her play of late has not been her best. She is ranked fifth in this list to win it all in Istanbul.

4. Maria Sharapova (Russia) 9,115 Points

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    Ranked No. 4: WTA Seed No. 2

    2012 was quite a year for Sharapova.

    She won her first French Open title, cementing her hold on a career Grand Slam. Roland Garros was the only missing jewel in her crown until this summer in Paris.

    The Russian also rose to No. 1 briefly after winning the 2012 French Open, defeating spunky Italian Sara Errani in the final.

    Sharapova began 2012 by reaching the finals of the Australian Open where she lost to Victoria Azarenka.

    At Indian Wells, Sharapova once again reached the finals but fell to Azarenka. In Miami the Russian lost in the final to Agnieszka Radwanska, seeded No. 5. 

    Sharapova finally won on clay at Stuttgart. After losing to Serena Williams in Madrid, Sharapova won the title in Rome, defeating Li Na of China.

    After winning in Paris, Sharapova fell in fourth round at Wimbledon. Then she lost in the finals of the 2012 Summer Olympics to Serena Williams.

    During the last major of the season, Sharapova lost in the semifinal round to Victoria Azarenka, leaving the U.S. Open disappointed again.

    After coming up short during the finals at Beijing to Azarkena, Sharapova ended the year with 56-10 record.

    She enters Istanbul as the No. 2 seed.

    In her head to head with the other members of the elite eight field, Sharapova holds an 11-8 lead in 2012 but over her career she edges them 29-25.

    The top four ranked players each has a good chance to win the title in Istanbul depending on the draw.

    Sharapova had good numbers in 2012 but did not win after securing the French Open title. She comes in ranked fourth to win it all at the WTA Championship in Istanbul.

3. Petra Kvitova (Czechoslovakia) 5,215 Points

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    Ranked No. 3: WTA Seed No. 6

    Last year’s WTA champion Petra Kvitova qualified for a chance to defend her championship on Oct. 4.

    Kvitova began 2012 on a high note after winning the WTA Championship at the end of 2011—reaching the No. 2 ranking.

    She advanced to the semifinals at Sydney as well as the semifinals of the Australian Open where Kvitova lost to Maria Sharapova.

    The Czech did not reach another semifinal until Roland Garros where she met and was defeated by Maria Sharapova once more—one step shy of another major final.

    At Wimbledon where Kvitova was the defending champion, the Czech found herself facing Serena Williams in the quarterfinals. She lost that encounter 6-3, 7-5.

    Kvitova also lost during the quarterfinals at the All England Club during the 2012 Summer Games to Maria Kirilenko.

    The Czech won her first title of the year at Montreal where she defeated Li Na in the finals. After losing in the semifinals in Cincinnati, Kvitova won her second title of the year at New Haven defeating Russian Kirilenko in the final.

    The Czech fell in the fourth round of the 2012 U.S. Open to Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli.

    Kvitova lost early in Tokyo and in Beijing—ending the year with a 45-15 record and two titles.

    Against the other members of the elite eight field, Kvitova stands 5-7 in 2012. For her career, she remains 15-13 against these players.

    Can Kvitova come back to win it all again in 2012?  That is the question.

    Because of her experience in winning at this venue, Kvitova has a slight edge on some of the players who are making their first trip to Istanbul. If her serve is working, Kvitova is hard to beat. She is ranked third to win the WTA Championship again.

2. Victoria Azarenka (Belarus) 10,190 Points

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    Ranked No. 2: WTA No. 1 Seed

    Victoria Azarkena qualified for the 2012 WTA Year-End Championship on Sept. 6.

    Azarenka catapulted out of the blocks in January winning her first 26 matches in 2012—until finally losing to Marion Bartoli in Miami. 

    During this win streak, Azarenka won her first Grand Slam title, the 2012 Australian Open, defeating Maria Sharapova in the final. 

    At that point, she claimed the No. 1 ranking—holding it until just after the French Open. Azarenka lost it for about a month, reclaiming it at Wimbledon.

    In a major disappointment, Azarenka was dismissed by Slovak Dominika Cibulkova in the round of 16 at the 2012 French Open. 

    At Wimbledon and at the 2012 Summer Games in London, Azarenka was dismissed by Serena Williams in the semifinals.

    Later that summer Azarenka would lose to Serena in the finals of the U.S. Open. 

    Recently, Azarenka took the title in Beijing over Maria Sharapova, followed by winning in Linz, defeating Julia Goerges in the finals.

    Azarenka ended 2012 with a 67-8 season record. She enters Istanbul as the No. 1 seed.

    According to the WTA, Azarenka has a 14-5 head-to-head record versus the rest of the elite eight field in 2012. For her career, she is 31-26 against these players.

    Azarenka is ranked No. 1 by the WTA, and she has had a phenomenal year. But she never seems to be able to get past Serena Williams, especially in 2012. Therefore, Azarenka is ranked second to win it all in Istanbul once the year-end championships get underway next week.

1. Serena Williams (United States) 7,900 Points

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    Ranked No.1: WTA Seed No. 3

    The winner of two Grand Slams in 2012, Serena Williams qualified for the WTA Year-End Championship on Sept. 10.

    Throughout 2012, Williams has returned to form, playing some of the best tennis of her career.

    She began slowly enough, finally winning her first title in Charleston.

    Later she would take the title in Madrid which led to speculation about Serena’s certainty of winning the French Open title again—having won it back in 2002.

    That, however, did not happen. Williams was dismissed in the first round at Roland Garros by Virginie Razzano in a stunning upset.

    Williams would, however, redeem her season by winning the title at Wimbledon, the 2012 Olympic gold medal in singles and doubles in London as well as the 2012 U.S. Open.

    It was quite a run for Serena.

    She has not, however, stepped foot on a tennis court since the U.S. Open concluded—ending the year with a 53-4 record. But then again, Serena seldom lost when she did decide to play.

    She enters Istanbul seeded third. In 2012, her head-to-head record against the rest of the elite field stands at 9-1. In her career against these players, Serena is a staggering 35-5.

    Those are some pretty awesome odds which is the main reason she is ranked No. 1 for her chance to win this title.

    It is true Williams has no matches under her belt since the U.S. Open, and that is detrimental. But no one has dominated on court like Serena in the last half of 2012.

    Let us just hope she continues with her decision to play...