The eight players seeded at the 2013 WTA Championships.
The 2013 WTA Championships get underway on Tuesday in Istanbul. Serena Williams is again the favorite.
Women's tennis is often criticized as inconsistent and for lacking the depth of competition seen on the ATP tour. However, in 2013, the results at the top of the WTA and ATP tours looked quite similar.
Novak Djokovic entered the year ranked No. 1 and won the Australian Open. Victoria Azarenka entered the year ranked No. 1 and defended her title at the Australian Open. Rafael Nadal, currently ranked No. 1, won the French Open and the U.S. Open. Serena Williams, currently ranked No. 1, also won the French Open and U.S. Open.
With the exception of the addition of Jelena Jankovic and the absence of Maria Sharapova, the participants are the same as last year.
The tournament's elite eight were divided into two groups for round robin play. Williams, Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber and Petra Kvitova are in the Red Group, while Azarenka, Sara Errani, Jankovic and Li Na are in the White Group.
Unlike at most tournaments, Williams won't have an unknown or easy out in her first match. She told the WTA staff, "It's a tough group. I have to be ready. That's the thing about this tournament and why it's so tough, you have to be ready from the first match on."
Serena Williams poses with trophy after winning 2012 WTA Championships
Williams enters the tournament with a firm grip on the No. 1 ranking and a 5,054-point lead over No. 2 Azarenka. Last year, when she arrived at the year-end championships, Williams was ranked No. 3 behind Sharapova and Azarenka.
Williams is an amazing 73-4 this year. She looked vulnerable in matches at the China Open. She even took an extended medical timeout to deal with back pain. Still, Williams prevailed and that's what she's done all year.
None of the women in this field can match wits or hits against Williams. The best hope for the contenders is to wait for Williams to wilt and then capitalize.
Victoria Azarenka at 2013 China Open
After losing to Williams at the 2012 WTA Championships, a defiant Azarenka walked off the court waving her finger and signaling that she was still No. 1.
She was. Azarenka was ranked No. 1, despite having been beaten by Williams at the 2012 U.S. Open and the championships.
Williams reclaimed the No. 1 ranking in February and never looked back. Meanwhile, Azarenka has struggled. She has lost her last three matches, including first-round exits in the China Open and the Pan Pacific Open.
Azarenka needs a good showing to reclaim her confidence. She is 17-8 against those in her group.
Petra Kvitova at China Open
Kvitova arrives in Istanbul riding some serious mojo. She is 8-1 this fall. This is her third appearance in the WTA Championships.
One of four women in the field with a Grand Slam title, Kvitova is 5-1 in the tournament. She won it in 2011. She has a 6-7 record against those in her group. Her biggest challenge will be Williams.
Jelena Jankovic at China Open.
Look at who's back in the WTA Championships. Jankovic, a former No. 1, spent much of 2011 and 2012 on the outside looking in, while Williams, Azarenka and Sharapova battled for No. 1.
Jankovic has a losing record against those in her group—and the entire field, for that matter. Still, she is happy to be invited back to the party.
And, if nothing else, the Serbian fashionista loves a good party.
Li Na and Angelique Kerber at 2012 WTA Championships
Li and Kerber are a pair of hard-hitting players who can go toe-to-toe with anybody on tour. However, they are also the type of streaky players who can be erratic and error prone.
If they can steady their nerves and stay focused, either one could reach the semifinals in this field. Outside of Williams, there are no "sure things" in this tournament. Azarenka is lacking confidence. Sharapova withdrew and Errani is still playing with a sub-70 miles per hour serve.
These two are the wild cards of the bunch. If they get hot, they could turn the field upside down.
Sara Errani at China Open.
Errani and Radwanska are counterpunchers who play with enough consistency to amass points and remain in the Top 10.
These ladies have proven that even without distinguishable weapons, consistent play can keep you among the top. What they haven't proven is if that defensive style can lead to a Grand Slam title in this era of heavy hitters.
Serena Williams after winning 2012 WTA Championships
Practice makes perfect, and Williams has had plenty of practice perfecting her post-title win trophy pose. She's also developed quite the match-winning beauty pageant wave, complete with a pirouette.
Her 56 WTA titles and 17 Grand Slams have provided her with ample opportunity to improve her stance for optimal camera angles.
Unless her back issue flares up, Williams will defend her title and get another chance to strike a pose.