Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert – winners of 18 Grand Slam singles titles (among many other things) – are the official ambassadors for the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara. They’ll be working in Mexico to promote the WTA’s premier event.

There are two factors, according to Navratilova, that will dictate success.

“It’s hard to know what the altitude effect will be for the players, as well as the speed of the court,” she said. “These are the two biggest variables – and we won’t know for sure until we see them step out there. Singapore and Shenzhen, most recently, were on the slow side. I’m hoping they speed it up a little, because that makes for better tennis. This places a premium on technique. The altitude, for sure, that’s going to speed up things.

“I know this because I lived in Aspen [Colorado] for 20 years. I know a little bit about playing at altitude – that’s 8,000 feet, right there. Guadalajara is closer to 5,000 feet. So that will definitely play a role, and if the women are not used to it, they’re going to be in for a rude awakening.

Evert recalls when she and Navratilova used to play in Aspen.

“With the altitude, I could not keep a ball in the court,” Evert said. “I lost to my sister Claire, 13 years younger, in doubles. Completely humiliated. Five thousand feet is a big deal. You need to make some adjustments.”

It’s been a year of dramatic change in the WTA, and these eight, elite participants reflect that. This year, three countries saw their first WTA Top 10 players: Greece (Maria Sakkari), Tunisia (Ons Jabeur) and Estonia (Anett Kontaveit). It was Kontaveit who was the last qualifier, after winning 26 of 28 matches and four titles in 10 weeks.

WTA Finals 2021 draw: Groups revealed at Opening Gala in Guadalajara

A lot of change, so how will this year’s WTA Finals play out?

Navratilova and Evert tackle five burning questions for the event that gets underway Wednesday.

This is Karolina Pliskova’s fifth WTA Final and the fourth for Garbiñe Muguruza  … what kind of advantage does that give them over the other six rookies?

Navratilova: I don’t think so much. They’re going to a city they’ve never been to. The new format might be different for the new players. Being able to win the tournament after losing the first match kind of takes the pressure off, gives you a chance to get into the swing of things. Because they haven’t played great in recent months, I don’t see year-end experience as making a huge difference. It’s more the recent confidence that gives players a leg up more than anything else.

Coach's Corner with Kamau Murray: Garbine Muguruza

2021 WTA Finals Guadalajara

Evert: Absolutely not. It’s the WTA Finals, sure, but it really depends on the players’ form in the moment. It depends on the surface, and they’re playing outdoors. All of that means more than the fact Pliskova and Muguruza have played the event nine times between them.

Barbora Krejcikova is the only player in this field to win a major this year … how does that help her at Guadalajara?

Navratilova: For me, Barbora is the most laidback person out there. She’s been super-adaptable this year with everything that’s going on. It’s not especially helpful playing the week before in Prague. To go from Indian Wells, flying back nine hours, and then by the time you get used to it, nine hours back in terms of time difference the other way. Time difference takes it out of you. Emotionally, if the Czech Republic wins it might be helpful. She’s a trooper, that one. She wouldn’t quit on her team.

Evert: Winning a Slam gives her confidence. Playing in Prague, obviously, she’s going to be match tough. But I just think you need three, four days to get used to that altitude. I mean, we’ll see. Maybe they’ll pick it up quicker than I did, but the altitude is going to be a factor.

Road to WTA Finals, singles

Road to WTA Finals, doubles

With six of the eight players first-time qualifiers, has the year-end championship ever been more wide open?

Navratilova: Nope. In a word, no. Women’s tennis has been pretty open for the last couple of decades, other than when Serena is in the field – particularly in the majors, when it’s Serena against the field. This WTA Finals is the epitome of that. The only reason Ash isn’t coming is the rigid COVID-19 protocols. We’re just happy that we have the WTA Finals. It is wide open – and the altitude is a serious wildcard here. It might come down to who is least tired at the end of the season. It’s been a tough year with the COVID-19 protocols being different from tournament to tournament. You can’t be set in your ways and do well. You need to be able to adapt, be nimble on your feet, which means nimble in your brain.

Evert: It’s never been more wide open and never been closer – and never tougher. I look at all eight of these women, and although they’ve combined for only one major, they’ve all had sparkling moments this year. They played like No.1 players. They all had magic happen to them, that golden moment. I hope they’ll bring their best tennis to the end of the year, to top off a great year for all of them. As an ambassador, I get to sit out on the court and see first-hand how hard they hit the ball. I don’t see that commentating. I see that and the athleticism and it’s mind-boggling.

Who will win – and why?

Navratilova: So, it definitely makes things more tricky. A good technique is at a premium because every mistake is magnified. I think people that hit more topspin will have a better chance there, to control the better. At the same time, a big hitter can win the points quicker. It may come down to altitude and technique, and for that I will go with Krejcikova or Swiatek.

Evert: Throw the names in a hat and pick one out. When I look at this draw, on a normal surface, I’d say Sabalenka. But seriously, you could pick any one of them. Kontaveit has been on form lately but I wonder if she’ll be tired. In the end, I’m going to go with Swiatek.