SINGAPORE - The final semifinal spot is on the line as the White Group plays its last round-robin matches Friday at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. Who will claim it? Chris Oddo previews the action right here at wtatennis.com.
Friday, White Group
Win and you're in. It's as simple as that for Agnieszka Radwanska and Karolina Pliskova on Friday as the pair prepare to square off in a crucial, winner-take-all round robin tilt. The victor will qualify for the semifinals and the vanquished will start their winter vacation a little bit earlier than they had hoped.
While defending WTA Finals champion Radwanska will come in as the heavy favorite based on her 6-0 lifetime record against the younger Pliskova, the 27-year-old Pole is wary of the blossoming Czech and knows that she'll need to be very sharp to defeat her.
"We played so many matches a long time ago," Radwanska said when asked of her domination of Pliskova in the past. "And our last matches were really, really tight. I think it's going to be a good challenge for me on Friday. She had a great season, playing very solid tennis, so we'll see how it's going to be."
Pliskova will have to shake off some disappointment before she tangles with Radwanska on Friday. The Czech nearly pulled off an incredible comeback against Svetlana Kuznetsova but ended up falling just short in a third-set tiebreaker. Afterwards, Pliskova was left to ponder what might have been.
"I was just not putting first serves in at all," she said, adding: "In the important moments she just played a little bit better than me. She put more first serves in than me and that was the key of the match."
Given the obvious matchup difficulties that Pliskova is facing, getting her lethal serve up and running is imperative. Radwanska has the edge in the footwork and consistency categories so the Czech will need to find a way to finish points on the slower surface in Singapore or she'll risk getting dragged into a track meet that will be very difficult for her to win. Can she summon the magic that has made her such a daunting threat to all comers in the second half of 2016, or will Radwanska make it lucky seven against Pliskova in Singapore?
Pick: Radwanska in three
There's no hope of reaching the semifinals for Garbiñe Muguruza on Friday, but that doesn't mean that her final match of 2016 isn't an important one; after all the winner will add $174,000 in prize money and 250 ranking points with a win. The Spaniard would love nothing more to finish the season with a Top 10 win that would simultaneously knock Svetlana Kuznetsova down to earth and earn her some extra rankings points to carry into 2017.
Kuznetsova, meanwhile, will be tasked with the strange challenge of playing at a measured intensity that preserves her body for the semifinals while also competing ferociously enough so that she doesn't lose her edge. It doesn't technically matter if Kuznetsova wins?she'll finish in first place in the White Group regardless of outcome, but what would a lackadaisical loss do to the momentum she's built in the last few weeks? Surely the Russian doesn't want to find out.
Pick: Kuznetsova in three
Doubles Quarterfinals: Four players are in the hunt for the year-end No.1 doubles ranking (Mirza, Mladenovic, Garcia and Mattek-Sands) in Singapore, but current No.1 Sania Mirza can keep the wolves at bay if she and Martina Hingis can rekindle their magic and defend their WTA Finals title. The road for the No.2 seeds begins on Friday as "SanTina" plays its first match as a tandem since August against the always dangerous Chan Sisters, Chan Yung-Jan and Chan Hao-Ching. No.4 seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina will face Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka in Friday's other doubles quarterfinal.
By the Numbers:
22 - Number of three-set matches that Kuznetsova has won in 2016, which is most since 2003 (Sugiyama).