SHENZHEN, China - On the eve of the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, the Elite Eight singles players took some time off from their tournament preparations to chat with press at All-Access Hour.
During the course of a hectic Saturday, the players waxed philosophical about the nature of sport, debated the merits of youth versus experience, and decided age is nothing but a number.
Check out the best lines from Ashleigh Barty, Karolina Pliskova, Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep, Bianca Andreescu, Petra Kvitova, Belinda Bencic and Elina Svitolina right here.
Ashleigh Barty, on why there are no “favorites” at the WTA Finals:
Despite her top-seed status at the WTA Finals, the French Open champion and reigning World No.1 was adamant that she didn’t consider herself - or anyone else for that matter - to be the favorite to win the stacked tournament.
“In my opinion, I don't think there ever is a favorite,” Barty told press. “I think everyone is deserving to win that's in the draw. Everyone has earned their place here and has the right to try to do the best they can to try and win.
“On any given day, anyone can be beaten. That's the beauty of sport, there are no certainties. There's always an opportunity for someone to try and bring their best.”
Barty headlines the Red Group, kicking off her Shenzhen campaign against last-minute qualifier Belinda Bencic.
Belinda Bencic, on her emotional reaction to qualifying for Shenzhen on the last day of the season:
No.7 seed Bencic was battling it out with Kiki Bertens for the last WTA Finals spot for much of the Asian Swing, and by the last week of the season, the mission was clear: she had to reach the Kremlin Cup final in order to qualify. Her giddy, emotional reaction to finally sealing match point was one for the ages.
— Belinda Bencic (@BelindaBencic) October 21, 2019
“I also saw the video. They showed me after. I think it's the most excited I've ever been for a match celebration,” Bencic said, still beaming. “No, I mean, it's just my real feelings. I was just so relieved, like, the moment I converted the match point and realized I made it to here last minute possible.
“Yeah, at some point it has become a big goal for me. Just super relieved. I tried to qualify in China and Linz. It didn't go well. Then I kind of stopped believing in it. I thought I would be in Zhuhai. I just took my last chance in Moscow. Somehow it paid off. I'm super happy. I think [Svetlana] Kuznetsova was my idol on this.”
Petra Kvitova, 29, on being the oldest player at this year’s WTA Finals:
Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova ushered in a new era when she became the first player born in the 1990s to win a Grand Slam title with her 2011 triumph at Wimbledon. But now, the former Newcomer of the Year finds herself in a completely new position as the most experienced player in the draw.
“Well, I just realized yesterday that I'm the oldest one of them, which feels pretty weird!” Kvitova laughed. “But I going to take it. We spoke with Simona [Halep], she's just one year younger. We made some fun of it... I mean, yeah, there are [Bencic, Barty and Andreescu] here for the first time, not the last time probably.
“We going to see them often, I think. Yeah, I mean, the new faces are coming. It's normal that the generation is just changing.”
Kvitova will kick off her WTA Finals round robin run against Naomi Osaka, in a rematch of this year’s Australian Open final.
Naomi Osaka, on being starstruck by WTA Legend Li Na:
The ever-popular Li Na put Chinese tennis on the map with her two Grand Slam titles, becoming the first Asian player to lift a major trophy at the 2011 French Open. Despite retiring from tennis in 2014, Li has clearly left an impact on No.3 seed Osaka.
“Honestly, for me, I feel very happy when I see her because I remember I used to watch her press conferences or her on-court interviews,” Osaka recalled. “It's just so nice seeing someone that's so happy and able to bring out such personality after playing such tough matches.
“Whenever I talk to her, I feel very nervous and I start sweating and I rub my palms. She probably thought I was very strange (smiling). I was able to, like, ask her questions about what she thinks that I can do better and stuff like that. It's a very big honor that I was able to ask her those questions in the first place.”
Karolina Pliskova, on her years of experience at the WTA Finals:
A WTA Finals regular since 2016, No.2 seed Pliskova is counting on her four consecutive appearances at the season-ending event to give her the edge in experience over the first-timers.
“I think it's little bit different compared to other tournaments,” she explained. “You have to get used to it. It's different format. You play more matches. If you lose, you can still play. This is just something what we are not really used to during the year.
“But anyway, it's like last big tournament. Everybody is following it. I think you can be little more nervous than maybe during the year, of course maybe little more tired. It depends what is your feeling… It can be some difference, I think, for the players which never played.”
Pliskova kicks off against against defending champion and No.8 seed Elina Svitolina on Monday.
Elina Svitolina, on her iconic look for the WTA Finals Iconic Photo:
Defending champion Svitolina rocked an all-black vest and trousers combination at last year’s WTA Finals, and she ended up winning the tournament - the biggest win of her career. Faced with the task of defending her title in a completely different city, Svitolina decided to keep one thing the same.
“[Last year] I really couldn't find a dress I liked, so I decided to go for the trousers,” Svitolina explained. “I mean, wearing trousers can be quite elegant. Then I asked this year, as well, if I could wear trousers because last year it helped me maybe, some people are saying,” she added with a laugh.
“Yeah, I just feel more comfortable in trousers. Yesterday we waited very long for all the draw and everything, so it was a long day. It's more comfortable for me that way.”
Simona Halep, on facing Bianca Andreescu for the first time:
In 2016, Simona Halep famously advised a young Canadian junior to give professional tennis a try. Fast forward just over three years, and the pair will meet again - this time, with Halep taking on the fast-rising Bianca Andreescu at the WTA Finals.
“It's amazing what she has done,” Halep enthused. “To win a Grand Slam at 19, play few tournaments and win them, it's a great, great job. I just want to tell her that she deserved because she played really well these tournaments.
“I'm excited also to face her. It's going to be a big challenge for me because this year was up and down a lot. I just have a very big up during the Wimbledon, and the rest was not that great. I'm not thinking about winning or losing here. I just want to be able to play the matches.”
Reunited with coach Darren Cahill in Shenzhen, Halep will face Andreescu for the first time on Monday.
Bianca Andreescu, on her new favorite accessory:
One of the best ‘big match’ players on the WTA tour, No.5 seed Andreescu knows how to stay cool in any situation. But when asked about her new sponsorship deal with luxury watchmaker Rolex, the Canadian propped her elbow up on the table and looked - for a split second - just like any excited teenager.
“Yeah, I got that Rolie on my wrist! It's sick, it's really cool,” the 19-year-old grinned. “I'm not going to lie. It's one of the best watch brands in the world. Being able to be a part of their team is truly incredible.
“Roger [Federer] is with them. Having my name amongst his in the books is pretty cool.”
The Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen kicks off tomorrow on Sunday, October 27 at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center.