The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Lindsay Gibbs, October 22, 2019
Prepping for year-end WTA tournaments in Zhuhai and Shenzhen
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Year-end tournament time
Well, friends. We’ve done it. We’ve reached year-end tournament time.
While this is a celebratory time for tennis fans, it can also be a confusing one! So, I thought I’d use this space as a chance to give you all a primer.
There are two year-end tournaments in the WTA: The 2019 WTA Elite Trophy, which started today (October 22) in Zhuhai, China, and lasts until October 27, and the WTA Finals, which begins on October 27 in Shenzen, China, and lasts until November 3.
Both tournaments are round-robin format, feature some of the best players from the season, and have prize money and ranking points. But make no mistake about it — the WTA Finals is the most prestigious and far richer of the two. And understandably so. The WTA Finals are the WTA’s crown jewel tournament, featuring the top eight singles players and doubles team from the 2019 season. It is the 49th edition of the tournament, but the first edition to be held in Shenzhen.
Last week, Belinda Bencic won the tournament in Moscow to become the eighth player to qualify for the WTA Finals, joining Ashleigh Barty, Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep, Bianca Andreescu, Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova and defending champion Elina Svitolina.
If you doubt how much this tournament means to players, just look at how thrilled Bencic and her coach were when she clinched her spot.
Singles players and doubles teams will be divided into two groups, which will play in a round-robin format. There are points for sets won and matches won and it involves a lot of math, but the top two players from each group advance to the semis, where it reverts to a traditional single-elimination format. It is so much fun to watch.
Zhuhai is similar. It is an invitation-only tournament for the next highest-ranked 11 singles players, and six top doubles teams. There is one singles wild card, which this year was given to China’s Zheng Saisai, the No. 40 player in the world. The players are split into four round-robin groups consisting of three players each (two groups of three teams each in doubles), and the winner of each group advances to the semifinals.
Look, I know there’s a lot going on in the world right now, women’s sports and otherwise, and for many people reading this, the China time zone is not a convenient one. But make time to watch these tournaments. They will be worth it. Trust me.
This week in tennis
The Marion Bartoli Effect: After making the Linz final two wekes ago, Jelena Ostapenko won Luzembourg last week. She’s 9-1 since pairing up with Bartoli.
Kristina Mladenovic and coach Sascha Bajin have split up, and it does not sound like it was mutual!
Coco Gauff wins another title, this time in doubles with her D.C. partner-in-crime, Caty McNally.
Ben Rothenberg asks, “What’s next for Coco Gauff?”
Ash Barty is closing in on the year-end No. 1 ranking.
A Tatiana Golovin sighting. Don’t forget about her comeback!
More Gauff content, but it’s worth it, I promise: The 15-year-old talks with the great Tumaini Carayol about why she’s using her activist voice at such a young age.
Jimmie48 Photography is always a must-follow on Twitter, but especially this week in Zuhai.
Courtney Nguyen catches up with Steffi Graff, the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai Tournament Ambassador.
Tweet of the week
Five at The IX: Everyone loves Zheng Saisai
Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the Zhuhai pressers. Zheng Saisai is very popular.
Q. You went to the Lionsgate Park yesterday. Curious what you made of the experience and if it’s inspired you to learn any sleight of hand magic or anything like that.
MADISON KEYS: It was kind of full-on. It was definitely really fun, it’s the first time I’ve done something like that. It was fun to go with Saisai. I just basically tried to make her do everything that I was afraid of. So it was nice to have her there with me.
And as far as magic, every time I see it I always say that I’m going to try to do it and whatever and then it’s really hard, so then I quit.
Q. You had a great season this year and you always had a good result in China, like you made it into six finals in China, I guess. It’s a lot. Any secret why you have good performance in China? And you have tried local food, hot pot, and also joined a local people’s dance in Zhengzhou. Any experience you want to share with us? Is there anything you want to try more in China?
ALISON RISKE: Yeah, I always enjoy being in China. It’s no secret that I play well here. Yeah, I’ve had some awesome results here, awesome experiences.
Honestly, I’m waiting on Saisai to take me on my next adventure. She’s really my tour guide and I’ve let her know that. So I’m just waiting for her to come up with something for me. I’m not too adventurous in what I eat, but I can count on her to pick something good. So I don’t have anything in particular that I want to do, but I will do whatever Saisai picks out for me.
Q. Talk about your friendship with Saisai. When did that start?
ALISON RISKE: I’ve obviously known Saisai for years, just because we have both been on tour for quite a bit. But Saisai is so much fun and I think she has such a great personality. And I think what’s great about Saisai too is that even when we play against each other, no matter the result, afterwards we can still be friends. I just lost to her in Zhengzhou and I definitely hold it against her, but we’re still friends (laughing.)
So, yeah, just kind of going to tournaments, she’s an awesome person, awesome girl and, yeah, I’ve had a lot of fun with Saisai.
Q. I really like the photo you took in the Shaolin temple. It’s really, really cool. How do you feel about that experience and do you enjoy like posing or modeling or any temptation to be a model after your tennis career?
ARYNA SABALENKA: Well I can model during my career in my free time. I like it, actually. I like shooting and I like this kind of shooting, like something interesting. And it was really, it was really nice experience there, it was really nice to be there to have the opportunity to shoot in these nice clothes. I mean, I also like this picture too, it was really nice. I really want to go there one more time. The atmosphere there is really strong, like maybe that’s why I won Wuhan, because the atmosphere and everything was like magic there.
Q. You always have a good result in China. Three titles and one runner-up. Do you feel any special connection or bond with this country and the Chinese fans, they call you the daughter of China.
ARYNA SABALENKA: Whoa.