Tennis queens step on court to battle for ultimate crown

Tennis queens step on court to battle for ultimate crown

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Tennis queens step on court to battle for ultimate crown

(L-R) Li Na, Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Agnieszka Radwanska and Sara Errani pose for photographers at the Çırağan Palace in Istanbul. The eight top-ranked players start the WTA Championships today. Daily News Photo / Emrah Gürel

Eight women’s tennis players have battled their way to Istanbul throughout the whole season. Now, only one player will be crowned in Turkey’s largest city. The WTA Championships start today in Istanbul, with the world’s top eight players competing for the year-ending title in women’s tennis.

The week-long tournament will put an end to a long and tiring season, but the eight stars will battle to the last for the final title of the year. “I’ve been getting ready for the tournament for the last few days,” Russian tennis superstar Maria Sharapova said yesterday at the event’s media day. “I love the city, and last year, the energy from the crowd was spectacular ... It’s the last push of the year and I am looking forward to it.”

The players were divided into two groups as the draws were made on Oct. 21.

Top-ranked player Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, third-ranked Serena Williams, up-and-coming German Angelique Kerber, and eighth-seed Li Na of China are all placed in the Red Group.

Sharapova leads the White Group, which also has Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska, defending champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, and Italian player Sara Errani.

US Open rematch

The first-round match-up between Azarenka and Williams is a mouth-watering clash for tennis fans. The two players met in the final of the U.S. Open last month, the final Grand Slam of the year, and the Belarusian lost despite leading in the final set.

“I am looking forward to [playing Serena again],” Azarenka said yesterday. “[In the U.S. Open final] I was close but I did not make it, but I have a chance to change it.”

Having reached the number one ranking for the first time in her career, Azarenka is one of the best performers in 2012. There is no a higher spot to rise to when you are top, but the Belarusian has not lost her edge.

“I have a lot of ambition, you cannot go higher than number one, I wish I could. But it’s a good motivation to hold it there,” she said. “The goals are still the same. Everywhere you go you try to win as many prizes possible.”

Serena Williams, who also had a great year with her U.S. Open and Wimbledon victories, and her Olympic gold medal, is also relishing the prospect of meeting Azarenka.

“Victoria has not stopped since January, she has been consistently playing throughout the whole year,” she said. “I know she’s gonna give 100 percent.”

For Williams, 2012 has been a year of comeback, as she left a string of injuries behind to return to winning ways. A decade on from 2002, when she won three Grand Slams in a year to rise to superstardom, Serena climbed to the top again. Comparing the two years, Serena said, “2012 was a little bit more of a sense of an accomplishment … Back then [in 2002] I was really just cruising, but this time it was a different scenario with serious issues and injuries,” she said. “After so many triumphs, disasters, happy moments, sad moments, when your career cycles like that you can appreciate it more and more.”

Serena favorite

Li Na, who became a Chinese hero with her French Open title last year, said that beating Serena is very hard when the American is on her day.

“Serena is tough. If she is 100 percent on court, it’s impossible to beat her,” she said. “In the WTA Championships, there is never an easy match and it doesn’t matter which group you are in. I will come to the court and try the best I can.”

Poland’s Radwanska agreed that Serena is hard to beat and that the American is the best player of the year. “I think Serena [is favorite], for sure … This summer she showed she is the best player in the world. For sure she is on fire.”

Radwanska will also have the chance to take revenge on Williams, after she lost to her in the Wimbledon final this year.

“Every match is a different story,” she said. “It’s gonna be a great challenge.”

The Polish player is no stranger to playing in Turkey, as she won the WTA Istanbul at the age of 19, to claim one of her first victories in the tour.

“I have great memories here, winning the title,” said Radwanska, who is now a far cry from the player she was four years ago. She has since played in her first Grand Slam final and advanced to as high as second spot in the rankings.

Last year, Istanbul witnessed a star being born, with Kvitova capping her great season with an unexpected win in Istanbul.

“It is always an honor to be in the top eight and I have great memories from last year,” she said. “I will try to have nice memories from this year also.”

Kerber and Errani are the two outsiders in the tournament.

“One year ago I was in top 100 and now I am in top 10, it’s a really unbelievable feeling being here,” Kerber said. “I am not really thinking about the results. I will try to win every single mach and after that we’ll see what happens.”