SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The top eight women in world tennis have limped to the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore this week, with creaking knees and form fears casting a shadow over the WTA’s latest big tournament push in Asia.
World number one Serena Williams headlines the event, but there are concerns about her fitness after the 33-year-old American quit the Beijing tournament earlier this month because of knee pain.
Williams went to Europe for tests and was one of the last to arrive in Singapore this week but said she was good to go as she bids for a fifth and third consecutive WTA Finals title.
“I’m ready. I really can’t wait for my match. I wish I had a match tomorrow,” the 18-times grand slam singles champion said after Saturday’s draw.
Fit or not, her appearance at least will lower stress levels at the WTA, still reeling from the retirement of Chinese trailblazer and their biggest marketing tool Li Na weeks before the Singapore event.
Such is the power of Asia’s first grand slam singles champion Li, the WTA have ensured she will be front and center to promote their latest tournament in Asia as the continent continues to stump up cash and interest in women’s tennis.
Singapore is the 22nd Asia-Pacific stop on the WTA’s 58-tournament 2014 calendar, with the health of the Tour looking stronger than ever despite the lack of a title sponsor.
The health of the players, though, is an issue after a lengthy year of demanding tennis and travel saw plenty of retirements and lengthy injuries.
Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic quit the Wuhan tournament in China and then the Linz Open with thigh and hip injuries, while Canadian Eugenie Bouchard also pulled out of the Austria event 10 days ago with a leg injury.
“I won’t have ideal training probably but I’ll give it my best,” Wimbledon runner-up Bouchard said at the time.
The three injury concerns have been pooled in the Red Group along with the out-of-form Simona Halep for the event which starts on Monday, with the top two advancing from the group stage to take on the best from a more competitive White Group.
French Open champion Maria Sharapova and Wimbledon victor Petra Kvitova look the most likely to get out of the White Group having won the last two big tournaments in Beijing and Wuhan to add to their grand slam titles earlier this year.
However, Dane Caroline Wozniacki threatens their last-four hopes after a strong run to grab the final berth for Singapore following runner-up showings at the U.S. Open and in Tokyo.
Pole Agnieszka Radwanska is the fourth member of the group, although her form has headed south since securing the Montreal title in August.
Williams, though, remains the woman to beat with the American boasting an impressive win-loss record of 49-4 against her seven opponents in Singapore with Ivanovic, Sharapova and Wozniacki the only ones to know what a victory over the American feels like.
In the doubles event, Italian duo Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci are favorites to take the title but Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Chinese Peng Shuai will want to sign off their successful partnership by retaining the title.
Reporting by Patrick Johnston; editing by Toby Davis