TENNIS

Badosa and Garcia look to earn points in the race for the WTA Finals

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This season of the Hologic WTA Tour has already delivered surprise after surprise. Why should the last five weeks of the regular season be different?

The one thing we know for sure: World No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 2 Ons Jabeur have already qualified for the 2022 WTA Finals in Fort Worth, Texas from October 31 to November 7. The doubles team of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, winners of three major titles this year, are back to defend their year-end title. Eight singles players and eight doubles teams will be selected.

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After that, almost anything is possible. Those who can handle heavy loads during the showpiece events of these five weeks will punch their ticket to Texas. There are three WTA 500s – Tokyo, Ostrava and San Diego – followed by a WTA 1000 in Guadalajara. There are also five WTA 250 tournaments.

The first big thing is the Toray Pan Pacific Open, which kicked off this week in Tokyo. Five of the eight seeds are in contention: No. 1 Paula Badosa, No. 2 Caroline Garcia, No. 4 Veronika Kudermetova, No. 5 Beatriz Haddad Maia and No. 8 Elena Rybakina.

Race to the WTA Finals

  1. Iga Swiatek (9,560)
  2. Ons Jabeur (4,496)
  3. Jessica Pegula (3,232)
  4. Coco Gauff (2,983)
  5. Caroline Garcia (2,896)
  6. Aryna Sabalenka (2,871)
  7. Daria Kasatkina (2,831)
  8. Simona Halep (2,661) (Out for the season)
  9. Maria Sakkari (2,358)
  10. Veronika Kudermetova (2,313)
  11. Paula Badosa (2,264)

Bold = qualified

Garcia, coming off of a great summer, is in the best position to join Fort Worth. She currently sits fifth, while Kudermetova (ninth), Badosa (10th), Haddad Maia (16th) and Rybakina (20th) have work to do.

Complete race in the WTA Finals standings

Perhaps the biggest recent movement regarding the WTA Finals race has come off the field. Simona Halep, after undergoing surgery on her nose for both medical and cosmetic reasons, has declared herself absent for the rest of the year. That’s relevant to the dozen players trying to finish in the Top 8. Halep, with 2,661 points, was in eighth place.

They are excited to return to tennis in Tokyo, where COVID-19 has forced the game to be canceled for the past two years. This makes 2019 winner Naomi Osaka the defending champion on the outdoor hard court.

Champion’s Reel: How Naomi Osaka won the 2019 Toray Pan Pacific Open

2019 Osaka

Along with No. 3 seed GarbiƱe Muguruza, Sofia Kenin and Rybakina, Osaka is one of the big four champions in the draw. And even if she’s not among the viable contenders, Osaka could be a huge factor in determining who does or doesn’t make it to Fort Worth.

Osaka plays Daria Saville in the first round and the survivor takes the winner between Haddad Maia and Yuki Naito. Haddad Maia collected 59 points in Portoroz to overtake Anett Kontaveit.

Had they awarded points at Wimbledon, Rybakina would be in excellent form, but she was busy last week in Portoroz, picking up 180 points as she reached the final. Siniakova won a thriller 6-7(4), 7-6(5), 6-4 that lasted over three hours. Rybakina edged out Ekaterina Alexandrova in the race.

Of those in the hunt, Rybakina may have the toughest first-round match in Tokyo, facing Liudmila Samsonova, whose No. 28 ranking is just three spots lower than Rybakina. Samsonova has won 13 of her last 14 games, including titles in Washington, DC and Cleveland. She knocked out 2021 finalist Leylah Fernandez at the US Open on her way to the fourth round.

After a first-round bye, Badosa takes on 19-year-old Zheng Qinwen, who knocked out Misaki Doi on Monday. Kudermetova, also after a bye, faces the winner of the match between Kenin and qualifier Fernanda Contreras Gomez. Garcia gets the winner from Zhang Shuai and Mai Hontama in the second round.

After winning at Roland Garros a year ago, Krejcikova qualified for the singles and doubles at the year-end event in Guadalajara. This year, her sole focus will be the doubles, where she and Siniakova make their fourth appearance in a row. They won the title in 2021 and became the first all-Czech team to win the WTA Finals and will attempt to become the seventh team overall to successfully defend the title.

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