SINGAPORE- It was a tale of two very different matches on Day 3 at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. Venus Williams kept her hopes of qualifying for the knock-out round alive with a smart and gritty win over French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 7-5, 6-7(3), 7-5, while No.3 Karolina Pliskova got the better of No.2 Garbiñe Muguruza to win the battle of 2017 No.1s.
Venus Williams' match-management and experience shines in marathon win.
It can be tempting to oversimplify Venus' game. She's powerful. Her range can seem impenetrable. Her first serve comes down like a lightning bolt. She's a gritty fighter who just won't let a match go. All of these are true.
But 2017 has been a remarkable showcase for the most underrated aspect of Venus' game: her brain. Venus is no longer the biggest hitter on tour nor is the net presence that won her five Wimbledon titles enough The to dominate. As stubborn as the 37-year-old champion can be, she has been quick to recognize this, accept it, and adjust accordingly.
To beat CoCo Vandeweghe in three sets in the Australian Open semifinal, Venus accepted she could not out-hit the American power-for-power. Haymakers were not going to win her the day, and so she dropped back, she used her athleticism and range and effectively played as a counter-puncher to win in three sets.
"I mean, to be honest, the way she was playing the match, it was like I was just going to have to play defense, try to play offense whenever I had an opportunity," Venus said after beating Vandeweghe to make her first major final of the season. "I want to dictate, but the way she was playing, it was almost impossible to do so. So it was just about trying to control the point in whichever way that was. If that meant that defensively I controlled the point, or I was able to get a little offense, whatever it was.
"I mean, just be the one winning the point at the end somehow."
That same mentality was on display in her 3 hour and 13 minute win over Jelena Ostapenko on Tuesday. Venus took her licks when it came to Ostapenko's audacious hitting - the Latvian fired 40 winners to Venus' 28 - but even on the sticky slow surface at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, Venus chased, absorbed, and hit back intelligently to keep the Ostapenko under constant pressure. When Ostapenko's backhand began to falter, Venus immediately did everything she could to keep the ball on that side. When the double-faults came in bunches, Venus stepped in even further.
Of Ostapenko's 13 double-faults, eight came in the decisive set, as Venus moved her second serve return position even further into the court to draw the errors. After having match point and failing to get over the line in the second set - the second-set tiebreak is only the second tiebreak Venus has lost all year - the American showed no signs of wobbling early in the third and as Ostapenko's frustration mounted and nerves frayed, Venus pounced. She hit bigger, served better, and despite the close scoreline, the final set felt it would inevitably go the way of experience.
A Wimbledon rematch will set the White Group.
Pliskova's win over Muguruza moved her 2-0 in the White Group without the loss of a set, meaning she will qualify first out of the White Group to play her first WTA Finals semifinals. The second qualifying spot will come down to the winner of the Wimbledon final rematch between Muguruza and Venus. The challenge for Venus will be recovering well after her physically taxing duel against Ostapenko, while Muguruza will have to quickly put her sub-par performance against Pliskova behind her. The Spaniard has won her last two meetings against Venus, but the American has won all three of their hard-court encounters.
"I mean, I'm going to try to do everything I can to be different than today," Muguruza said.
No.1 Scenarios after Day 3: Venus on the brink of elimination.
Here are the No.1 scenarios after three days of play in Singapore. Ostapenko can no longer achieve the No.1 ranking this week, and Venus is on the brink of elimination from that conversation as well. If Halep takes the court to play her second group match on Wednesday, then Venus cannot take the No.1 ranking.
- Simona Halep must equal or better Muguruza’s result to keep the year-end World No.1 spot
- Muguruza must win one more match than Halep in the group stage if both fail to advance to the semifinal, or advance one round further in the knock-out stages if they both advance from the group stage
- Karolina Pliskova must reach the final to remain in contention
- Elina Svitolina must win the title to remain in contention
- Caroline Wozniacki will be eliminated from contention if she loses to Halep
For Karolina Pliskova, there are no 'dead rubbers' in Singapore.
Pliskova is in and Ostapenko is out. So Thursday's final group match between Pliskova and Ostapenko is meaningless, right? Not at all. Every match in the round-robin phase of the WTA Finals carries significant ranking points and prize money implications, and as Pliskova is chasing the No.1 ranking, taking the night off on Thursday is simply not an option.
That doesn't mean Thursday's match will feel normal.
"I think it's going to be different for both of us, because she cannot go out of the group, so it's for both of us going to be quite a different match, because you don't play for this qualifying and for the thing that you are staying in draw," Pliskova said.
"But there is still a lot of points and playing a lot of money. I just want to win, you know, like every other match. Maybe it's going to have little bit different atmosphere than this one or the first one, but still, it's a match, and I don't want to lose any of those matches what I'm playing. So would be nice to win all the three in the group."
If Pliskova goes 3-0 through the White Group, she will take 750 points and $610,000 into the knock-out stage. If she goes 2-1 through the White Group, she will take 625 points and $457,000 into the knock-out stage. As for Ostapenko, win on Thursday is the difference between going home with 500 points and $304,000 with the win or 375 points and $151,000.
Martina Navratilova issues a challenge to the new generation.
The WTA Legend had a lot to say on the WTA Insider Podcast, where she issued a call to current players to refocus their games during the tour's regular season, as opposed to narrowing their focus to the Slams.
"It's like you only have the playoffs and no regular season," Navratilova said. "The regular season is what establishes the tour, it's the strong middle class, and you can have the elite win the Slams. It's a balancing act but right now it's gone a little too much one way, but that's how it goes sometimes.
"I think the players really lead the way here, by their effort, by being more consistent, playing better in regular tournaments and talking them up. You have to build them up yourself. You can't say I don't mind what happens after you lose a match, and say I just want to be sure I'm 100% for the French Open.
"No, this is not a warm-up. This is not a warm-up event. It's an event. So take a little more pride in the tour because without that, you've got nothing."
Stat of the Day: A player who has lost a match in round-robin play has gone on to win the WTA Finals title seven times, including the last three years in Singapore.
Hear Navratilova's full thoughts on the newest Legends Corner installment of the WTA Insider Podcast:
GIF of the Day: We're loving the Net Cam in Singapore.
Shot of the Day: That's a laser from Jelena Ostapenko.
Quote of the Day: As Ostapenko says, sometimes it's best not to overthink things.
"Actually when I was Love-40 on my serve, I just didn't care anymore and I started to serve much better. So I served five or four first serves straightaway. But when it was like 0-0 on my serve, then I didn't serve that well."