SHENZHEN, China - World No.1 Ashleigh Barty will face defending champion and World No.8 Elina Svitolina for the title at the 2019 Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen on Sunday. The Championship match begins at 7:30pm local time.
Here are the questions we're pondering as we wait for the final showdown of the season:
Will Svitolina maintain her dominance over Barty?
Svitolina and Barty have played each other five times and Svitolina has come out the victor in all five matches. In fact, Barty has only been able to grab two sets off Svitolina in those five matches, but their closest encounter came in March of this year at the BNP Paribas Open. Squaring off in the Round of 16 in the California desert, Barty lost a heartbreaker, 7-6(8), 5-7, 6-4.
"It took a few days to get over," Barty said. "I felt like in that match, over the course of the three sets, I did a better job of playing the way that I wanted to play. It was just missed opportunities.
"The bonus is I get another chance to try to rectify that as best that I can.
"Elina has the ability to put balls in very awkward situations, make you play a lot of balls, make you earn every single point. I'm looking forward to that challenge. Knowing it's the last one of the year, you can leave no stone unturned."
What can Barty do differently to solve the Svitolina puzzle?
To remedy her 0-5 record against Svitolina, Barty says she will have to sit down with coach Craig Tyzzer and come up with a different gameplan.
"I have an opportunity to try something different," Barty said. "I have an opportunity to go out in the match and try something because previously what we've done hasn't quite worked or I haven't executed well enough over a long enough period to be effective.
"It's a match I'm looking forward to. It's always an extremely tough match against Elina. She's an incredible opponent, knows how to win on the biggest stage.
"I think for me it's an opportunity to come out tomorrow, try to enjoy it, try to finish off the season really well, a season that's been magical. To cap it off with a chance to win another title is really exciting."
Can Svitolina keep up her lights-out serving?
Despite averaging 3.8 aces per match in 2019, Svitolina has been raining down aces at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Arena this week, hitting an average of 8.3 aces per match. After hitting a career-best 16 aces against Belinda Bencic in the semifinals, Svitolina has actually out-aced Barty for the tournament. The Ukrainian has fired 33 aces in nine sets, compared to Barty's 31 aces in 11 sets.
Barty has been more successful behind her first serve than Svitolina - 74.8% vs. 70.0% - but Svitolina has found great success behind her second serve, winning 52.1% compared to Barty's 48.3%.
Will Barty put the cherry on top of a perfect season?
The 23-year-old has already secured the Year-End No.1 ranking, set to become the first Australian woman to hold the year-end top spot in WTA history. In a season that saw her start the year at No.15, Barty has gone on to win her first major title at Roland Garros, her first Premier Mandatory title at the Miami Open, one of only two players to win a title on all three surfaces, and goes into Sunday's final tied with Kiki Bertens for the most wins on tour, with a 55-12.
On Sunday she has the opportunity to underline her position at the top of the women's game by winning her first WTA Finals, which would give the Queenslander three of this year's nine biggest titles (Four Slams, Four Premier Mandatories, WTA Finals). Only Naomi Osaka (Australian Open, Beijing), Bianca Andreescu (US Open, Indian Wells), and Barty (Roland Garros, Miami) have won two.
Will Svitolina's title hunger help or hinder her?
For most players, a season that included back-to-back semifinals at Wimbledon and the US Open and qualifying for the WTA Finals would be considered a great season. But most players are not Svitolina, who made it clear before the tournament that she doesn't play for big wins or breakthrough results.
"For sure, semifinals at the Slams gives me this push, this positive step, but it's not a satisfying step. To reach my goal I want to do more. I want to do better and that's what drives me and keeps me on my toes to work more and achieve more."
"For me, each time I step on court I want to win. There is no other way. I want to win, doesn't matter what tournament it is.
"Since I've been on the WTA tour I've won a title every year," Svitolina told WTA Insider before the WTA Finals. "I got a little bit spoiled, maybe.
Svitolina's hunger has paid off so far, as she has looked the most dominant of the pair going into the final. This is Svitolina's last chance to win a title this season and keep her streak alive. Since the start of the 2013 season, the 25-year-old has won at least one title every season.
Will Barty break the Slam champion drought?
The last time a reigning major champion won the WTA Finals was in 2014, when Serena Williams won her third straight WTA Finals crown in the inaugural Singapore staging. Since then, Agnieszka Radwanska won in 2015, Dominika Cibulkova won in 2016, Caroline Wozniacki won in 2017 and would go on to win the Australian Open three months later, and Svitolina won the title in 2018.
Will Svitolina maintain her WTA Finals mastery?
Svitolina is now on a 10-match win-streak at the WTA Finals, a streak that began at her tournament debut in 2018 with a win over Simona Halep in the final stage of group play, was extended last year with her undefeated run to the title, and this year, where she has lost just one set.
There's just something about the WTA Finals that brings out the best in Svitolina. She came into Shenzhen having yet to tally a Top 5 win in 2019. She scored two this week, over No.2 Karolina Pliskova and No.5 Simona Halep, and has a chance to finish with a third over Barty.
"I try to take one match at a time. You don't have to think so much ahead, so much what's going on.
"It's every match from the beginning you have to be on it, have to be focused, have to be presenting your best game, your best mental conditions, physical conditions.
"I always like to push my limits. That's what I try to do."
Who will make tennis history on Sunday?
The woman who lifts the Billie Jean King Trophy on Sunday will take home the biggest prize money check in the history of men's or women's professional tennis. Having gone undefeated, Svitolina will win $4.725 million if she defends her title. Barty, who went 2-1 in group play, can win $4.42 million with the title.
"For me individually, and I think for all of us players individually, it's not something we think about," Barty said. "It's more of kind of a general progression of putting our sport more on the map.
"I think we have the most beautiful sport, it's a global sport. Now we're getting more attention. I feel like we've earned that."
"As Micky [Lawler, WTA President] has said a million times: We've come from nothing and now we're in this position where we're breaking records. It's very special for our game, the WTA, all of the people behind the scenes that do so much hard work to try to put our sport on the map, try to create more of an interest globally."