The WTA Elite Trophy is back, but is it needed? — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, Oct. 24, 2023

Howdy, y’all and Happy Tennis Tuesday! We’re getting closer to the end of the 2023 season and this week marks the return of the WTA Elite Trophy. You might be asking yourself, “what the heck is that?” and I don’t blame you. In fact, this is the first time in my The IX tenure I’m discussing it!

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The WTA Elite Trophy first kicked off in 2015 and features 12 players — the 11 players ranked Nos. 9-19 in the WTA Race rankings and one wildcard, normally handed to a Chinese player. Think of it like a mini-WTA Finals. Because of COVID and then the Peng Shuai situation, the tournament hasn’t been held since 2019, but each tournament produced a champion that would historically produce great tennis the following year:

  • 2015: Venus Williams def. Karolina Pliskova
  • 2016: Petra Kvitova def. Elina Svitolina
  • 2017: Julia Goerges def. Coco Vandeweghe
  • 2018: Ashleigh Barty def. Wang Qiang
  • 2019: Aryna Sabalenka def. Kiki Bertens

Previously, the tournament would be held after the WTA Finals, so sometimes the WTA Finals alternates would sometimes travel from Singapore and/or Shenzhen to play. Ending the season with a B-grade version of the WTA’s crown jewel was a bit frowned upon, so the 2020 edition was meant to be held beforehand. Obviously, there were bigger fish to fry since that announcement.

While it’s great the tournament is back and in a more fitting spot on the calendar, I have to wonder if the tournament is really necessary. When the WTA Finals moved out of Shenzhen and into a different city, many wondered what would happen to the tournament. Somehow, it’s staying in China so I selfishly wonder how and/or why Zhuhai remains. There used to be a “Tournament of Champions” for the best performing players at the WTA 250 events before Zhuhai replaced it. I would prefer to see that come back instead of the current format. While it’s great that the players just missing out on Cancun have a stab at some money and points, to me it still feels a bit like “you were close, so here’s a consolation prize.”

The doubles portion has always been a mystery with random players pairing up. Not having direct teams pairing up, in my opinion, cheapened the event. I’m happy to see that the No. 11 team of Miyu Kato and Aldila Sutjiadi and No. 13 duo of Marie Bouzkova and Sara Sorribes Tormo are two of the six teams playing. Though she made up the No. 14-ranked team with singles qualifier Jelena Ostapenko, Lyudmyla Kichenok is playing with Ulrikke Eikeri and the top team is made up of two singles qualifiers in Kudermetova and Haddad Maia. The last pairs in Zhuhai are wildcards Xu Yifan and Wang Xiyu and Jiang Xinyu and Tang Qianhui.

No. 9 Maria Sakkari elected not to participate and instead train for her alternate showing at the WTA Finals in Canun. No. 10 Babora Krejcikova — who will also be playing doubles in Cancun — is the top seed. The 12 players are set into four groups of three with the top player advancing to the semifinals. The groups are:

  • Azalea Group
    • (1) Barbora Krejcikova
    • (6) Daria Kasatkina
    • (11) Magda Linette
  • Camellia Group
    • (2) Madison Keys
    • (8) Beatriz Haddad Maia
    • (9) Caroline Garcia
  • Orchid Group
    • (3) Jelena Ostapenko
    • (7) Zheng Qinwen
    • (10) Donna Vekic
  • Rose Group
    • (4) Liudmila Samsonova
    • (5) Veronika Kudermetova
    • (12/WC) Zhu Lin

It’s not stated which group winners will play each other, so I can’t do a full prediction like I usually do. That being said, Krejcikova should be a shoe-in to win her group. Magda Linette hasn’t been playing the best as of late and the Czech routed Kasatkina recently in Zhengzhou. The winner of Krejcikova-Kasatkina should be the Azalea winner.
Prediction: 1. Krejcikova, 2. Kasatkina, 3. Linette

The Camellia group is fun! I’m looking forward to all three matches, especially the Keys-Garcia matchup. I can absolutely see all three players going 1-1 and causing the group winner to be announced via a tiebreaker. Haddad Maia’s lefty game can also cut through the power of both Keys and Garcia, though, so it’s not going to be one-way traffic like I imagine the Azalea group. My gut says Keys has the upper hand, but it’s essentially on her racquet. If she wants it, she’ll take it all.
Prediction: 1. Keys, 2. Garcia, 3. Haddad Maia

I normally would like to put Jelena Ostapenko through the Orchid group, but Zheng Qinwen has been a revelation this year and I think playing on Chinese soil will be enough to send her through. Zheng is coming off her big title in Zhengzhou and she holds a 2-0 record over the Latvian. As far as Donna Vekic, I was surprised to see her qualify here and fortunately her first half of 2023 allowed her to gain entry. She’s 1-5 in her last six matches and as a player that relies on confidence, it’ll be tough to take down both Zheng and Ostapenko.
Prediction: 1. Zheng, 2. Ostapenko, 3. Vekic

The Rose group features Veronika Kudermetova, who’s found some footing in the Asian Swing with a big title in Tokyo, Beijing finalist Liudmila Samsonova and wildcard Zhu Lin, who at No. 35, is just sitting shy of her career-high ranking. While Zhu has produced a solid season and recently made the Osaka final, I do think her work is cut out for her with the big hitters in her group. I reckon the Kudermetova-Samsonova winner will find themselves in the semifinals, but that is one of the round robin matches I would circle to make sure and watch.
Prediction: 1. Kudermetova, 2. Samsonova, 3. Zhu

Ultimately, I would say Krejcikova is the slight favorite, but not too far ahead of Keys/Garcia and Ostapenko/Zheng. It should be an interesting week and even though it feels like a light week, it’s not to these players.

Onto links!

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This Week in Women’s Tennis

Selfishly, my read of the week is from Peter Bodo, who profiles how Mason, Ohio, emerged the winner to keep the Western & Southern Open from being moved to Charlotte.

Tamara Korpatsch captured her first title above the WTA 125 level at the Transylvania Open, defeating home favorite Elena-Gabriela Ruse in the final. The doubles title went to first-time duo Jodie Burrage and Jil Teichmann, who downed Leolia Jeanjean and Valeriya Strakhova.

Elise Mertens defended her Jasmin Open title in Monastir with a win over Jasmine Paolini, while Paolini and Sara Errani erased a 2-6, 1-5 deficit to defeat Mai Hontama and Natalija Stevanovic to take the doubles title.

Katerina Siniakova won the longest singles final of the year, saving match points against Marie Bouzkova to win the Jiangxi Open. Vera Zvonareva and Laura Siegemund needed to win the doubles title to qualify for the WTA Finals and that they did with a win over Eri Hozumi and Makato Ninomiya.

Something to keep an eye on is the financial stability of the WTA Tour, especially after these comments from Kazakhstan Tennis Federation president Yuri Polsky:

Billie Jean King, who is hoping for better scheduling on tour, predicts the WTA will join forces with Saudi Arabia, a move that could be seen as regression as women’s sports seems to be on a positive trajectory.

Gigi Fernandez tried to stay away from tennis when building her business portfolio in retirement, but she’s found her niche in teaching doubles all over the country.

Venus Williams will skip the Australian summer and train with her goal of coming back to the tour in March for Indian Wells.

The United Cup groupings were announced and hopefully yours truly will be able to be on-site for some matches as I’ll be Down Under for all of January!

Serena Williams shared that she has another memoir, as well as a second “inspirational” book as part of a two-book deal with Penguin Random House.

Universal Tennis announced that they’re expanding and will now be known as UTR Sports:

The WTA’s ACEing Cancer program is honoring Dr. Jennifer Karlow, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston who focuses on ovarian cancer developments.

Though she spent the majority of her life in Canada, Erin Routliffe is making history for New Zealand tennis this year.

The Athletic highlights a few young players that could be making some large waves in the next year including Mira Andreeva and Alycia Parks.

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Tweet of the Week

Billie Jean King doing The Masked Singer certainly wasn’t on my 2023 Bingo card:

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon