Barty handed tough draw at WTA Tour Finals
Ashleigh Barty is poised to become Australia's first year-end world No.1 tennis player since Lleyton Hewitt in 2002 but has a tough draw at the WTA Finals.
Ash Barty must navigate a path through tennis’ version of the group of death to give herself a shot at icing her magical season with title glory at the WTA Finals in China.
All but guaranteed the year-end world No.1 ranking regardless of her showing in Shenzhen, Barty has been thrust into a devilish pool containing both this year’s Australian Open finalists – champion Naomi Osaka and runner-up Petra Kvitova – plus Swiss prodigy Belinda Bencic.
The other group is almost as treacherous.
It features Karolina Pliskova – the only player with a glimmer of hope of denying Barty the year-ending top spot – against US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, Wimbledon winner Simona Halep and titleholder Elina Svitolina.
Only injury or illness can prevent Barty from becoming Australia’s first year-end No.1 since Lleyton Hewitt in 2002.
The French Open champion doesn’t even need to win a match at the elite eight-women championships, such is her whopping rankings lead over her rivals.
— WTA Finals (@WTAFinals) October 25, 2019
Barty merely has to complete all three of her pool matches, or win one of her first two, to secure top spot at the end of 2019 – and almost certainly also claim top seeding for January’s Australian Open.
But the winner of a tour-topping 52 matches this year hasn’t come to south China for the second prize.
“This is a special tournament for myself and my team and I’ll be fighting hard to finish the WTA season with the Shenzhen title,” Barty said after being formally recognised as the winner of the Race to Shenzhen at Friday night’s lavish draw ceremony.
“It was already an honour to qualify for the WTA Finals, but to also finish the Porsche Race to Shenzhen on top is an achievement I’m incredibly proud of.”
Pliskova needs a minor miracle to crash the Barty party.
The big-serving left-hander has to win the title next Sunday, be undefeated in five matches during the week and hope Barty is unable to complete the group stages.
Fittingly, it was China this time last year that provided the springboard for Barty’s spectacular 2019 campaign.
Success at the Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, the biggest title of her career to that point and coming after she had made the final in Wuhan, marked the start of her stunning run.
Fast forward 12 months and the 23-year-old is a Grand Slam champion boasting three titles this season as well finishing runner-up to Osaka at last week’s China Open.
Barty’s watershed year has also featured an undefeated Fed Cup in leading Australia to its first final since 1993 and a career-best charge to the quarter-finals of her home Slam in Melbourne.
She also won her first WTA Premier Mandatory crown at the Miami Open, became the first Australian woman since Evonne Goolagong Cawley 43 years ago to ascend to the top of the rankings and was the only player to make the second week of all four majors in 2019.
Barty is also the first Australian to qualify for the WTA Finals since former US Open champion Sam Stosur in 2012.
Stosur, a singles semifinalist in 2010, is contesting the doubles finals in Shenzhen with Zhang Shuai.
Groups for the WTA Finals round-robin stages in Shenzhen (prefix denotes seeding):
1-Ashleigh Barty (AUS)
3-Naomi Osaka (JPN)
6-Petra Kvitova ((CZE)
7-Belinda Bencic (SUI)
2-Karolina Pliskova (CZE)
4-Bianca Andreescu (CAN)
5-Simona Halep (ROM)
8-Elina Svitolina (UKR)