As a memorable year for women’s tennis comes to an end, the WTA Finals are returning after last year’s competition was cancelled because of Covid.
The top-eight female professional players are split into two groups of four and will compete in a round-robin format.
The top two players from each group will then advance to the semi-finals, from which the finalists will be decided and ultimately the WTA Final winner.
Ashleigh Barty, the defending champion and world number one earlier withdrew from the running to concentrate on her pre-season training in the build-up to the Australian Open.
Subsequently, for a sixth consecutive year, a new WTA Finals winner will be crowned, highlighting the current unpredictable and exciting climate of women’s tennis.
The unpredictability has also translated to the competition’s venue, as strict travel restrictions mean that the Finals, usually held in Shenzhen, China, have been moved 13,718 km across the Pacific to Guadalajara, Mexico.
Along with the new location comes new challenges. Sitting at 5,000 feet above sea level, players will have to contest with thinner air and faster rallies due to pressureless balls, adding to the excitement.
The group names, which were previously based on the hosts flag, will pay tribute to Mexico’s Aztec era by using the names of the country’s ancient cities.
Chichén Itzá group:
The Chichén Itzá group is made up of Aryna Sabalenka, Maria Sakkari, Iga Swiatek and Paula Badosa, who are all making their WTA Finals debuts.
Aryna Sabalenka is the headline of the group as the number one seed in the competition. The 23-year-old has significantly improved this season, winning two titles, and making back-to-back Grand Slam semi-finals.
Maria Sakkari is the only player in the group yet to win a title this year, but has reached two Grand Slam semi-finals.
As the most experienced player in the group, she will be a solid favourite to advance.
Iga Swiatek may be the youngest in the tournament, but she is also the only player who has won a singles Grand Slam in this group when she stunned the world at last year’s Roland Garros.
The Pole has since added to her trophy cabinet by winning her first WTA 1000 title in Rome and dominating at the Adelaide International. The 20-year-old packs a lot of punch in her shots but is also good at mixing her shot selection to catch her opponents out, making her a tricky player to face.
Capping off the group is Paula Badosa. The Spaniard has had a breakout year, winning her maiden WTA title in Belgrade. She then cemented her place in these Finals with a stunning Indian Wells Masters victory in which she endured a thrilling three-hour and four-minute final.
The Teotihuacán group is undoubtedly the heavyweight of the competition with Barbora Krejcikova, Karolina Pliskova, Garbine Muguruza and Anett Kontaveit.
Krejcikova comes into this competition as the only player to win a Grand Slam this year.
The Czech is another who has experienced a breakout year, winning three titles that saw her reach a career-high ranking of third in the world. Her fast serve and aggressive style will make her a minacious opposition when factoring in the venue’s conditions.
In a competition loaded with debutants, Pliskova is the veteran playing in her fifth consecutive WTA Finals tournament.
While she is another that is yet to win a title, she remains the one to beat, holding an impressive 13-2 record against the players in this group.
Former number one Muguruza has had a bounce-back season, making a career-record four finals and winning two. The 28-year-old’s Dubai Tennis Championship campaign was a statement of her intent, beating three of the players in this year’s Finals.
Kontaveit has been in a rich vein of form, winning two consecutive hard court titles in the build-up to this competition.
The Estonian won 26 of her past 28 matches to pinch the final top-eight place off Ons Jabeur and will be a scary proposition for all three players in her group.
With the groups drawn and the venue in place, the WTA Finals will be an unmissable affair with several exciting matchups in store and a new champion guaranteed.