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By Chris Oddo | Tuesday October 17, 2017

With less than a week to go until the WTA Finals kick off in Singapore, we’re taking a closer look at the season of each of the eight finalists, starting with current World No.1 Simona Halep.

Simona Halep

Record: 44-15
Titles: 1 (Madrid)

I’ve always loved the saying “Life is not about what happens to you, it’s about how you react to what happens to you.” In 2017, nobody embodied the positive elements of that axiom better than Simona Halep. The Romanian was dealt more than a few hard-luck losses that might have killed the spirit of other players.

This year, more than any other, will go down as the year that Simona Halep finally blossomed into a mentally tough, resilient character. It may have all started with the most difficult loss of her career. And she overcame a lot of obstacles to get there. Halep squandered a set and 3-0 lead in the Roland Garros final and fell to Jelena Ostapenko in three. After that she fell two more times in big matches where a win would have taken her to the No.1 ranking; another time, at Eastbourne, she fell two matches away.

It would have been easy to count Halep out after she was drubbed by Garbiñe Muguruza in the Cincinnati final with the No.1 ranking on the line, but lo and behold Halep battled back, earned another chance at No.1 and took it in Beijing when she defeated Jelena Ostapenko to reach her fifth final of the season.

Halep did not win the major that she coveted, and she lost a lot of tough battles along the way, but as she checks into Singapore for the fourth consecutive season, there is a newfound sense of belief, one that the Romanian never had before. A lot of that is due to Darren Cahill, who called Halep out on her mental toughness in April when she lost her bearings and melted down in Miami. He told her she needed to change that part of her game and stop sabotaging herself on court or he was done coaching her. It was a daring play, but one that paid immediate dividends for Halep. She would not be in this position had she not taken a step back and made it a point to become a stronger, more unflappable player during tough times.

Garbiñe Muguruza

Record: 46-19
Titles: 2 (Wimbledon, Cincy)

The wealth has been spread pretty evenly among the Top 8 this season in women’s tennis. When the cat’s away, the mice will play, and that has definitely been true this season as Serena Williams has missed all but the season’s first month while giving birth to her child.

But of all the eight players that have qualified for Singapore, it has been Muguruza who has taken the biggest slice of the pie. She claimed her second major title at Wimbledon in stunning fashion and later reached the No.1 ranking, becoming the 24th player to hold the WTA’s top spot. She won three against the Top 5, seven against the Top 10, and her 46-19 record is nothing to scoff at. But for Muguruza it was all about that Wimbledon run, where she played so magnificently and made it three Grand Slam finals in three seasons. We’ve always talked about consistency being the missing ingredient in her game, but three major finals in three seasons—there must be something to that.

Muguruza is a former doubles runner-up and singles semifinalist at Singapore. It would not be surprising to see her add champion to that list.

Karolina Pliskova

Record: 51-16
Titles: 3 (Brisbane, Doha, Eastbourne)

It’s been a really strong year for Karolina Pliskova, who became the WTA’s 23rd No.1 after Wimbledon, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that the Czech was unable to back up her 2016 breakout at the U.S. Open with a Grand Slam title. She certainly possesses the game to be a major champion, and she made the quarterfinals or better in three of the four majors, but Pliskova will be judged on her success at the majors and other big events for the remainder of her career. She’s that talented—no excuses.

The WTA Finals presents Pliskova with a great opportunity to reassert herself at the top of the game. The No.1 ranking is within reach and so is the title for the talented Czech, who enters the event at No.3 in the world and toting a 51-16 record.

Elina Svitolina

Record: 52-12
Titles: 5 (Tapei, Istanbul, Dubai, Toronto, Rome)

The WTA title leader had an impressive campaign that saw her win five titles and climb inside the Top 5 for the first time in her career. Svitolina won all five finals she played and she owns the WTA lead with seven Top 5 wins. But Svitolina still needs to prove that she can be a force at the biggest events. She reached only one major quarterfinal this season and has the type of game that can be exploited by the bigger hitters.

Venus Williams

Record: 35-12
Titles: 0

Two Grand Slam finals in a single season for the first time since 2003? Wow, what a remarkable performance Venus Williams has turned in in 2017. And she has been rewarded with a Top 5 ranking for the first time in over six years (Jan. of 2011). Can Williams keep her magical season going with a run at the WTA Finals? Why not?

The American won more matches at majors than any other player in the WTA this season. She hasn’t played a lot this autumn but if she finds her fitness and form there is no reason why Williams can’t finish the season with a massive title.

Caroline Wozniacki

Record: 56-20
Titles: 1 (Tokyo)

Caroline Wozniacki is the WTA’s win leader in 2017 and she has been to more finals than any other player. But her 1-6 record in title matches has really kept the Dane from pressing for a return to the top of the rankings. Another disconcerting number is Wozniacki’s trips to the last four of majors this season—zero. It really felt like she was building something all summer and many expected her to put up a great performance at her favorite Slam, the U.S. Open, this summer. But Wozniacki fell to Ekaterina Makarova in the second round.

Wozniacki rebounded by claiming her first title of the year in Tokyo, and she’ll look to cap off a very consistent, if not brilliant, season with a success in Singapore.

Jelena Ostapenko

Record: 42-18
Titles: 2 (Roland Garros, Seoul

Jelena Ostapenko shocked the tennis world in June when she won her maiden major at Roland Garros, becoming the youngest player to take home a major title in over a decade, and she nearly shocked the world again at Wimbledon when she reached the quarterfinals. No matter how you slice it it has been an incredible season for the Latvian. She introduced a delightful brand of power tennis to the WTA season and displayed a keen ability to deliver in the clutch. For much of 2017 tennis pundits wondered if she did indeed have ice in her veins. Nothing seemed to phase her on the court, and that showed in her 19-7 record in three setters.

Ostapenko cooled down temporarily during the North American hardcourt summer, but since the U.S. Open she has caught fire again. She went 11-2 in three events and looks primed to do some damage to her seniors at Singapore.

Caroline Garcia

Record: 46-20
Titles: 2 (Wuhan, Beijing)

The most remarkable story of the Asian swing is the Frenchwoman, Caroline Garcia. Tennis beyond the U.S. Open always creates a few thrilling storylines, because many tour veterans are running on fumes and limping to the finish line. Sometimes we have to take the accomplishments with a grain of salt—there can be strange upsets that have more to do with injuries than anything else—but when someone steps up and does what Garcia did at Wuhan and Beijing, all we can do is take notice.

Garcia reeled off 11 straight wins to capture both titles, defeating four Top 20 and three Top 10 players in the process. She nudged Johanna Konta out of the final Singapore slot and will be in Singapore ready to prove that her performance in China was no fluke.


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