Serena's absence gives rivals hope in WTA finals

Sat Oct 24, 2015 8:51am EDT
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By John O'Brien

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - When Roberta Vinci completed a stunning semi-final upset of Serena Williams at the U.S. Open in September, the Italian not only ended her opponent's hopes of a calendar Grand Slam but inadvertently deprived the WTA Finals of its star attraction.

Fatigued by the strain of getting to within two victories of claiming all four majors in one season, a demotivated Williams hung up her racket for the year and decided against taking aim at a fourth straight title in the elite eight-woman event.

The world number one's absence from the Singapore tournament starting on Sunday is a blow for its organizers and an injury cloud hangs over three of the players who have made the journey to southeast Asia.

Nevertheless, a high-class octet are hoping to end the year in style.

Flavia Pennetta benefited most from Vinci's triumph, beating her friend and compatriot in the final to claim a maiden grand slam title at the age of 33 and secure a berth in the singles portion of the season-ending tournament for the first time.

Pennetta's appearance will also be her last as she announced her plans to retire from tennis at the end of this season during the victory ceremony in New York. The likeable Italian would be a popular champion should she overcome her seven rivals next week.

"I don't exactly know what my plans are as I need to first finish here," Pennetta told reporters on Saturday. "I am really focused on my job, (I will) do what I have to do, finish this week and enjoy it a little bit as well."

The Italian limped out of her most recent tournament in Moscow earlier this week and the highest-ranked players in Singapore, Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova, have also suffered troubled build-ups to the season finale.   Continued...

Serena Williams of the U.S. looks up before serving to Roberta Vinci of Italy during their women's singles semi-final match at the U.S. Open Championships tennis tournament in New York, September 11, 2015.  REUTERS/Carlo Allegri