Minus the Williams Sisters
October 26, 2010 -- The last week of the Sony Ericsson WTA tennis season is nothing less than a celebration for eight elite players. They have proven that their performances out did the whole pack of players, since The Race to Doha points started its tally January first.
In the lead up to today's first three matches, the WTA heralded each new addition to its short list of stars: Caroline Wozniacki has qualified for the WTA year-ending championships the women's tennis organization touted; and, weeks later, Victoria Azarenka is the last player to have qualified for the WTA year-ending championships. Elite took on another layer of luster each time a player had accumulated enough points to earn her entrance to the 2010 WTA Sony Championships in Doha, Qatar.
Alas, at this year's event, neither Williams sister will play at the Khalifa International Tennis & Squash Complex. Serena hasn't competed since winning her 13th major at Wimbledon. She finally called it quits for the year in October because of nagging problems associated with her right foot. And Venus's pesky right knee aches and pains refused to yield to her competitive wishes.
Their absence in Doha is a loss for fans worldwide. They faced-off in the finals of 2009, Serena putting touches on another stellar year by handily defeating Venus and ending the year at number one. In 2008, Venus was the titleist. Serena also won in 2001.
But, there's a flipside to their absence. Two first-timers have filled their spots.
Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 French Open Champion, has never qualified in her 12-year career. At 30, which you have to admit is a couple steps away from the far pasture in any tennis player's career, she couldn't ask for more from herself or her career.
Samantha Stosur is in Doha for the first time, too. Tennis Magazine crowned the Aussie the "Most Improved" player for 2010, in its most recent issue. She broke into the top ten in March, won her second career title at Family Circle Cup, and stood at the threshold of winning The French Open until Schiavone dazzled her way to victory.
As far as repeat performances at the year-ending championships, Elena Dementieva sits atop that list. This is her 10th appearance. The woman who has never won a major but should have won a major excels off the ground, but seems to crumble at the precipice of greatness. Her best results came in 2000 and 2008 when she made it to the semifinals both years.
Kim Clijsters, though, earned her spot as soon as she won the U. S. Open, her third. Any singles player or doubles team that wins a major automatically gets a ticket to Doha.
This is Kim's seventh WTA Championship. She's the only player in the field with a winning record, and the only one with two titles: 2002 and 2003. Clijsters might be a bit match soft right now, as play gets under way. She hasn't competed since the U. S. Open.
The youngsters of the group -- Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka -- are here for the second time. Wozniacki chalked up the most match wins for the year and crept to #1 in the world two weeks ago, surpassing Serena Williams. If the Dane holds her own, she'll remain on top. However, Vera Zvonareva, the #2 player is hot on her heels and points away from displacing Wozniacki before the week's out.
Last but not least is Jelena Jankovic. The Serb lost in 2008 and 2009 to Venus Williams in the semifinals. Today she played with such lethargy it was painful to watch. Zvonareva destroyed 'JJ' 63 60, in the first match of the tournament. There's no hope she'll make it past the round-robin phase, if what we saw today continues. The matches are too tough... each one the intensity of, at least, a quarterfinal of a WTA Premier event.
Another stunning result of the day goes to Caroline Wozniacki who clobbered Elena Dementieva 61 61, in less than an hour.
However, the five-star match du jour belonged to the French Open rematch between Schiavone and Stosur. The Italian came out on fire, beating Stosur into submission with a 4/0 lead. Stosur won two points in those four games. You had to think Stosur thirsted for the win. The final in Paris left her wide-eyed, as if an Italian train had struck her.
Slowly Stosur turned the tables. She not only got back on serve, she won six games in a row to take the first set 64, and then closed the match in the second with another 64. Stosur had found a way around Schiavone's artistry, smacking forehands and twisting serves to her advantage.
The prize money for the WTA Championships is formidable. Win the title and you're 1.5 million US dollars richer. Additionally, if you win three round-robin matches you pocket $400,000, win two it's $300,000, only one it's $200,000. And even if a player comes up completely empty, she ends her year $100,000 richer -- not bad for four days on court.
Oddly enough, and as a final word on the Williams sisters, the Qatar Tennis Federation's (QTA) has pictured them on the cover of a promotional piece, alongside Caroline Wozniacki, on its website. All three outfits worn by these women in the photograph are out-dated. Obviously the QTA, which sponsors the event, must know Venus and Serena are kicking up their heels in some other part of the world. Otherwise you could conclude it wants to bank on the wealth franchise Serena and Venus have created, which says bundles about their limitless contributions to the game of tennis.