What a difference a day makes. Yesterday, Serena Williams topped the women’s rankings. Today, with last year’s points from Doha subtracted, she slips behind Dinara Safina once more. The Russian will therefore be the top seed at the Sony Ericsson Championships.
It was with a margin of just four days that Jelena Jankovic won her place in Doha. By reaching the quarter-finals in Moscow, she scraped just enough points to fill the eighth and final place in the season’s finale.
Jankovic, for obvious reasons, has been one of very few top 10 players in action during the last fortnight. Two others racing for the Doha wire—and filling the pair of "reserve" seats—were Agnieszka Radwanska and Vera Zvonareva.
But how did they fair against the following pack, many of whom have the incentive of one of 10 spots in the Commonwealth Bank Tour of Champions in Bali during the first week in November?
The Top 10
1. Francesca Schiavone (597 points) Current WTA Ranking:17. Last Power Ranking:NR
Last four tournaments: Moscow [Winner], Osaka [Finalist], Beijing [R32], Tokyo [R64]
What a fortnight for the intense Italian. She reached the finals in Osaka and played a storm in Moscow to take only the second title of her career, despite this being her 12th final.
Looking at how she played, it’s a surprising record. She’s a wiry powerhouse of talent, able to play with slice as easily as topspin, volleys as happily as ground strokes. Her drop shot and her single-handed backhand are a delight.
How, at the age of 29, she has still never broken into the top 10 (her highest was 11 almost four years ago), is hard to understand.
This week, she has jumped seven places. With precious few points to defend in the early part of 2010, maybe she can make one last push.
2. Yanina Wickmayer (400 points) Current WTA Ranking:19. Last Power Ranking:NR
Last four tournaments: Luxembourg [SF], Linz [Winner], Beijing [R64], U.S.Open [SF]
The young six-footer from Belgium is on a roll. First she took the Linz title and then, to celebrate her birthday, reached the semis in Luxembourg. With her all-round power play, her first two titles in the bag, and acceleration up the rankings, watch out for her in 2010. With the return of Clijsters and Henin, the Belgians are most definitely on the march.
3. Svetlana Kuznetsova (387 points) Current WTA Ranking:3. Last Power Ranking:1
Last four tournaments: Beijing [Winner], Tokyo [R32], U.S.Open [R16], New Haven [QF]
The Russian has not played since her win in Beijing. With her place sealed for Doha, she may be playing a sensible game by resting. She appears to be injury-free, has come into form at the right time, and has the quick muscular game to get through the tough round-robin format. She has to be a good proposition for the year-end title.
4. Agnieszka Radwanska (387 points) Current WTA Ranking:10. Last Power Ranking:2
Last four tournaments: Moscow [R32], Linz [SF], Beijing [Finalist], Tokyo [SF]
The Pole continued her good autumn run with another 130 points from Linz, but an early loss in Moscow ended her hopes of a guaranteed spot for Doha. She has, though, made second "reserve."
With a few injuries breaking out amongst the top eight, she may still get to play—as long as her own heavily taped left leg stays sound.
5. Kim Clijsters (345 points) Current WTA Ranking:18. Last Power Ranking:6
Last four tournaments: Luxembourg [R16], U.S.Open [Winner], Toronto [R16], Cincinnati [QF]
Clijsters’ first return to the courts in Luxembourg since her U.S. Open triumph was brief, going out in the second round, in three stiff sets, to Patty Schnyder.
It looks as though the Belgian is building up her schedule. She will play Venus Williams at an exhibition event, The Thomas Cook Diamond Games, on the home turf of Antwerp in December, and her web site outlines a solid 2010 calendar starting in Australia in January.
6. Maria Sharapova (325 points) Current WTA Ranking:14. Last Power Ranking:3
Last four tournaments: Beijing [R16], Tokyo [Winner], U.S.Open [R32], Toronto [Finalist]
The Sharapova season finished with Beijing, and she is planning to use a long offseason to work on her fitness for Australia.
In an interview this week, she also mentioned a couple of exhibitions prior to the Oz season, so fans should keep their eyes open for those dates!
7. Jelena Jankovic (273 points) Current WTA Ranking:8. Last Power Ranking:OLI
Last four tournaments: Moscow [QF], Beijing [R32], Tokyo [Finalist], U.S.Open [R64]
Her quarter-final exit from Moscow was hardly a convincing performance. Since retiring in the final in Tokyo, she has struggled to impose her game on the competition, and looks jaded.
It’s hard to see her improving on last year’s semi-final finish in the Tour finals.
8. Marion Bartoli (249 points) Current WTA Ranking:12. Last Power Ranking:4
Last four tournaments: Osaka [QF], Beijing [SF], Tokyo [QF], U.S.Open [R64]
The French woman notched up another 70 points in Osaka before pulling out of her quarter-final match with a right shoulder injury. So her target of a top 10 place will have to wait until 2010.
More interesting, though, is that she, and the late-surging Italian, Flavia Pennetta just above her at 11, are next in line for those “reserve” seats to Doha. But Pennetta withdrew from Moscow with a knee injury. Let’s hope not too many of the selected 10 fall by the wayside before the Championships get under way!
9. Nadia Petrova (237 points) Current WTA Ranking:16. Last Power Ranking:5
Last four tournaments: Moscow [R16], Beijing [SF], Tokyo [R32], Quebec City [QF]
With some past solid performances, the energetic Russian is currently holding her own in the mid-rankings and added a modest 60 points at her recent Moscow outing. But without more consistency, she may have trouble maintaining a top-20 place for much longer.
10. Serena Williams (220 points) Current WTA Ranking:2. Last Power Ranking:9
Last four tournaments: Beijing [R16], U.S.Open [SF], Toronto [SF], Cincinnati [R16]
If she is motivated for the Doha title, she will still be the one to beat. She’s played little, but that may help her in the heat of the Persian Gulf.
Many of the women are starting to feel the effects of the hard court season just when they need their greatest resources. Williams is not.
Outside Looking In
Na Li (211 points) Current WTA Ranking:15. Last Power Ranking:7
After a strong showing in Tokyo and Beijing, Li has not played. She may have failed to win a title this year, but she is enjoying an all-time high in the rankings. Impressive at 27, and her success in the Asian swing may spur her on in 2010.
Vera Zvonareva (184 points) Current WTA Ranking: 9. Last Power Ranking:OLI
Things don’t seem to improve for the Russian. She made it to the second round in Moscow, where she got a thrashing from qualifier Tsvetana Pironkova, 6-0, 6-2. With both knees already taped, Zvonareva resorted to extra strapping during the match, and looked like a tired player.
She’s on the plane to Doha as a reserve. She may be hoping that she is not called upon to play.
Elena Dementieva (178 points) Current WTA Ranking:5. Last Power Ranking:8
Another Doha-bound woman who did not play this fortnight will be hoping that the rest sees her through the tough week ahead.
It will be Dementieva’s ninth appearance at the Tour Championships, the most among active players. Many will hope that this popular, but temperamental, woman has major success this time around. She turned 28 last week, so needs to make her mark soon.
The young Swiss, Timea Bacsinszky, won her first tour final in Luxembourg, and jumped 15 ranking places.
Australian Samantha Stosur also won a first tour title in Osaka, and finishes just shy of the top dozen at 13.
Author's Thoughts On Doha
Though the 2009 WTA tour has now reached its conclusion, a couple of show-stoppers still lie ahead for the top-ranked players. The singles Championship finale in Doha features:
Dinara Safina; Serena Williams; Svetlana Kuznetsova; Caroline Wozniacki; Elena Dementieva; Victoria Azarenka; Venus Williams; and Jelena Jankovic
Reserves:Vera Zvonareva and Agnieszka Radwanska
Venus Williams beat Zvonareva in last year’s final. The only other woman currently in Doha to have won before is Williams’ sister, Serena. She did so without playing a point, as her opponent, Lindsay Davenport, could not play the final. How much sweeter would be the year-end victory if she could play it out, on court, to the last point? But who could stop Serena?
Well, Jankovic has a niggling wrist problem. Wozniacki retired in her first-round match last week with a thigh pull. Azarenka has had few significant wins since the summer. Against this scenario, Safina will be counting her blessings that she is drawn against these three for the round-robin stage.
In her pool, Serena Williams faces her sister, who has also had injury problems. She has the form player of the moment, a fit and rested Kuznetsova. Also in this tough section is Dementieva who, despite an up-and-down year, undoubtedly has the ability to beat any of them. She too is rested, and would be a popular winner.
Pick for semis: Kuznetsova and Serena Williams, Safina and Azarenka.
Pick for title: Kuznetsova
A final word on the other tournament taking place in Doha this week: the doubles.
Cara Black and Liezel Huber are top seeds, with the Williams as No. 2.
The sisters have never been in the year-end competition before and have only played five tournaments this year. But those five resulted in three Grand Slam wins. They beat Black and Huber in two of them.
It will take a brave person to bet against the Williams winning in Doha as well.