Tuesday 28 October 2014

WTA Finals Singapore 2014

Serena Williams routs Halep for WTA hat-trick and title No. 5
By May Chen, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2014

SERENA Williams had a double mission yesterday - to prevent history from repeating itself and to write a new chapter in the books for herself.

The American accomplished both, trouncing Simona Halep 6-3, 6-0 to secure the Billie Jean King trophy at the inaugural BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore.

In the process, the world No. 1 prevented the Romanian world No. 4 from repeating her upset win (6-2, 6-0) in their earlier round-robin match - Williams' biggest defeat in 16 years.

It was the 33-year-old's third straight win at the prestigious season finale - she is the first player since Monica Seles (1990 to 1992) to achieve this feat.

Including her wins at the 2001 and 2009 editions, Williams has now amassed five year-end titles, bringing her level with Steffi Graf.

The win earned Williams US$2.047 million (S$2.6 million), while Halep took home US$971,000.

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong watched on as the winner applauded fans at the Singapore Indoor Stadium for showing up in full force over the week to support the event.

"The crowds here were so great," said Williams, who will have an orchid named after her in honour of her spectacular win.

"I can speak for all of the players who played here... We can't wait for the next four years to come back."

More than 129,000 people attended the 10-day event - the first time in over a decade that attendance has crossed the six-figure mark. Singapore is also the first Asia-Pacific city to host the tournament.

In the doubles final, Zimbabwe's Cara Black and India's Sania Mirza beat defending champions Peng Shuai from China and Hsieh Su-wei from Chinese Taipei 6-1, 6-0.

Williams the conqueror
WTA Finals win shows fighting spirit in season marred by injuries, hiccups
By May Chen, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2014

THE past week at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore has, in some ways, been an encapsulation of Serena Williams' entire 2014 season into a bite-sized, 10-day package.

Not stellar by her lofty standards and blemished by losses and lows at several points - but she always delivered when it counted and will leave Singapore clutching the Billie Jean King Trophy for the third year running.

In handing Simona Halep a 6-3, 6-0 drubbing yesterday to lift the WTA Finals singles title, the American also recovered from an "embarrassing" hiding at the Romanian's hands just days ago in the round-robin stage, showing just why she is one of the game's greatest ever.

"It's been a really difficult year for me," the 33-year-old said after winning her fifth year-ender title in total.

"I don't think I've had such an 'up and down' year."

Williams started off the season brightly by winning the title at the Brisbane International but then failed to make it into the last eight at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon.

Illness struck at Wimbledon and she was also hit by injury, withdrawing from the Beijing Open recently from a knee injury that left her participation in Singapore in doubt.

Despite that, she still finished the year the top-ranked player with seven titles, including yesterday's season-ending win.

She said: "I didn't expect to end the year on this note.

"I was just happy to even be competing here. It makes everything much more sweeter and satisfying, especially for me.

"It wasn't my best year but I'm just happy to have won one more title this year."

She admitted she had gone into the match yesterday feeling fatigued, apparent in her slow start off the blocks.

Broken early by Halep, the match had for a moment seem like it would be a repeat of their round-robin encounter, before Williams rallied to break back.

Once she found her momentum, she never looked back.

Her powerful serves and strokes kept the pressure on the Romanian, preventing the petite but skilful world No. 4 from building rallies and crafting points around them.

Still, the winner had high praise for the vanquished who just days ago handed her the worst defeat in 16 years.

"Knowing that (Simona) has the ability and the capability to play so well, I knew that I had to step up my game," said Williams.

Halep, meanwhile, said it was hard to be disappointed after the week she had.

The 23-year-old is just the eighth player in the event's 44-year history who made it to the final on their debuts.

Acknowledging that the enormity of the occasion got to her, she added: "It wasn't my best day but I'm still happy and I'm still enjoying this moment because it's a good moment for me.

"It was an amazing week for me so I cannot be sad that I lost."

Black and Mirza at the double
They see off Hsieh/Peng easily in both pairs' final match before split-up
By May Chen, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2014

AFTER executing the great escape two matches in a row, Cara Black and Sania Mirza are tired of winning the hard way.

Relentless from start to finish, the duo thrashed defending champions Hsieh Su-wei and Peng Shuai 6-1, 6-0 in a one-sided BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore doubles final yesterday afternoon.

They won US$500,000 (S$637,700) and the doubles trophy, newly-named this year after tennis legend Martina Navratilova.

More aggressive and making far fewer errors, Zimbabwean Black and India's Mirza were never troubled by their opponents.

China's Peng and Hsieh of Chinese Taipei, in fact, never won another game after holding their opener.

Said Mirza, 27: "We saved the best for the last. Today was the best match we've played almost all year... and one of (the) best matches we played against them."

Added Black: "Coming out, knowing their record in finals, we knew we had to be really focused.

"We started really well and that put the pressure on them. We didn't give them any free points."

But the winning duo could very well have not even made it to the match yesterday.

In their quarter-final clash against Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears, the pair survived one match point, needing five themselves to close out the win.

They then weathered three match points in their semi-finals against Czech Republic's Kveta Peschke and Slovenia's Katarina Srebotnik on Saturday.

The two pairs had met five times before yesterday, with Peng and Hsieh having the edge 3-2.

But the defending champions looked nervous and clearly short of the kind of form that had taken them to the Roland Garros title this year, as well as last year's Wimbledon.

Said Peng, shortly after the crushing loss: "It's sad because I wish we could have played better.

"But I feel like I'm at home when I'm playing in Singapore so I hope I can be back next year."

The final was also the swan-song for both pairs who are splitting up after the tournament.

Hsieh will pair up with Mirza next season. China's Peng will move on to partner Czech Republic's Andrea Hlavackova, while Black has yet to decide whether she will continue playing intensively at the elite level.

The 35-year-old said: "I'm just struggling with my body a little bit. You know, there have been some matches where I haven't been able to recover for the next day... So, to be fair to Sania, I think it was fair for her to tell her to find somebody. I think she's found a great partner."

Mirza added: "To end this way, we couldn't have asked for a better start or end. It kind of sums up our partnership.

"I've also found a great friend in her. Almost like an older sister to me. I'm the oldest in my family so I learnt a lot from her on and off the court."

Singapore captures heart of tennis star Serena Williams with orchid named after her
By Jalelah Abu Baker, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2014

Women's tennis star Serena Williams took home a trophy and more than $2 million for her win over Romanian Simona Halep in the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Finals in Singapore on Sunday, but an orchid named after her really captured her heart.

The orchid hybrid bears purple and white-coloured flowers in line with the WTA's colours, and it blooms throughout the year.

It is a hybrid between Dendrobium Pramot and Burana Charming. Doubles winners Cara Black from Zimbabwe and Sania Mirza from India also had the orchid honour.

The three women are the next sports celebrities celebrated this way in Singapore, after golfer Annika Sorenstam, the world's top female golfer at the time, took part in the Lexus Cup here in 2006.

The Singapore Tourism Board said that the flowers were named after them to echo WTA's ideal of expanding women's roles in sport and society.

Orchid christening goes a long way, with the first named in 1956 after Lady Anne Black, the wife of a former governor of Singapore.

The nearest you can get to some celebrities, dignitaries and visiting heads of states is probably at the National Orchid Garden at the Singapore Botanical Gardens.

WTA chief bestows 'best' tag on Singapore
By Chua Siang Yee, The Sunday Times, 26 Oct 2014

It may be the first time that the season-ending BNP Paribas WTA Finals has been held in Singapore but Women's Tennis Association (WTA) chief executive Stacey Allaster's already ranks this edition as the best of all time.

Speaking at the annual State Of The WTA address yesterday, she said: "(I'd give it) 10 out of 10. It's exceeded our expectations.

"It has been our collective goal... to make this the best WTA Finals in our history. We have done it.

"I can't wait for next year because I think we will continue to build on the excitement."

World No. 1 Serena Williams agreed. She said: "It's been an amazing experience. I've had a wonderful time here. I think everyone has been incredibly hospitable."

One positive note was the overall attendance figure for the Oct 17-26 tournament, which stood at 92,000 before yesterday's and today's matches.

Allaster estimates it would finish close to 100,000, the first time in over a decade that the event has hit six figures.

The 51-year-old was also pleased to have launched the WTA Future Stars and Rising Stars youth tournaments, as well as the Legends events at this year's edition, the first of five to be held in Singapore.

On upping the ante for next year, the Canadian said: "We'll have more fan engagement, more dialogue with the players... it's the opportunity for the fans to get close. That's what we want to do - accessibility."

While the event was largely successful, it was also hit by a couple of minor snags. For example, a roof leakage at the Singapore Indoor Stadium occurred during the doubles quarter-final between Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina and Alla Kudryavtseva/ Anastasia Rodionova on Wednesday.

The blinding spotlights also drew criticism from Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki.

Said Allaster: "The lights issue was dealt with immediately. At live events, there'll always be something but what's most important is that it was corrected immediately.

"Obviously, we don't want to have a roof that drops water on the court because that's how an athlete can get injured. So that will be something in the post-event that we'll chat about. But in the grand scheme of everything, it is a detail that is easily addressed."

Allaster unveiled board member Micky Lawler as the WTA's new president, and said a World Cup event, featuring eight national teams, is being planned.

She said: "It's a shame that the players don't own the Grand Slams. That was one of the biggest mistakes that we've made. I don't want to make the same mistake."

Television commentator Kevin Skinner sorry for 'Goodbye from China' blunder
By Jean Iau, TODAY, 28 Oct 2014

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has spoken to television commentator Kevin Skinner over his blunder during the WTA Finals on Sunday that sparked angry reactions on social media.

TODAY understands WTA officials and representatives from relevant agencies met him late that night to investigate the matter, in which Skinner said “Goodbye from China” as he wrapped up his live commentary as the 10-day tournament concluded at the Sports Hub concluded. He has since apologised.

When contacted, the WTA declined to comment on the controversy.

Among those who took to Twitter to express their disapproval of the gaffe was local TV personality Hossan Leong, who tweeted: “#WTA #WTAFinals #WTAFinalsSingapore did the commentator just say goodbye from CHINA??? #epicfail get another job man!”

Blogger Lee Kin Mun, better known as Mr Brown, also tweeted: “The #WTAFinalsSingapore commentator said “Goodbye! From China!” Oi! Singapore where got is part of China? #WTAFinals”.

Skinner made an earlier error when he said the WTA Finals was the first time Singapore has had a live broadcast of a major tennis event. He also received publicity for his references to TV series Breaking Bad in the quarter-final between Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki at last year’s China Open.

WTA ‘keen to build on’ Singapore success
Competition to kick off a day earlier next year with more fan engagement
By Low Lin Fhoong, TODAY, 28 Oct 2014

The numbers speak for the success of last week’s BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore. Of the 11 sessions at the 10,000-seat Singapore Indoor Stadium, four were sold out, with more than 129,000 fans turning up to catch the Women’s Tennis Association’s top eight singles and doubles players over 10 days (Oct 17-26).

Tickets for the final session were sold out a week in advance, with a sizeable audience tuning in to witness Serena Williams claiming her fifth WTA Finals trophy.

With about 87,000 people also experiencing the Fan Zone and player practice sessions, which expanded on what Istanbul had offered, it was no surprise that WTA chairman and chief executive officer Stacey Allaster has rated the maiden edition of the WTA Finals in Singapore the “best in the history of the WTA”.

Allaster also knows that the prestigious US$6.5 million (S$8.3 million) season-ending tournament will need to raise its game when it returns next year. The 2015 edition will see the main draw kicking off on Sunday instead of Monday, with eight days of action instead of seven. Newly-retired Chinese superstar Li Na is already committed to a three-day appearance alongside tennis great Martina Navratilova.

“Our goal was to stage the best WTA Finals in the history of the WTA and we’ve achieved that goal,” said Allaster in an interview ahead of Sunday’s singles final.

“World Sport Group (WSG), Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and Sport Singapore are our partners; they’ve exceeded all our expectations and our dreams.”

Admitting there was nervousness over whether fans would show up, Allaster said: “What’s been incredibly fun for all of us here has been the crowds, the fans. You just don’t know when you go to a new market that’s never had women’s professional tennis like this and they have come in droves.

“This was a 10-day sports entertainment spectacle, the fusion of sports and entertainment, the show production, music, Fan Fest, coaches conference, (Mariah Carey) concert, it was really the year-end celebration speaking to fans who love tennis and those who didn’t, but would have come to have a fantastic time.”

New events such as the WTA Rising Stars — which saw Zheng Saisai and Monica Puig contesting the final on the show court last Tuesday — and WTA Future Stars, along with the Legends matches featuring Navratilova, Tracy Austin, Iva Majoli and Marion Bartoli were introduced for this year’s WTA Finals.

To get more fans involved, the singles and doubles draws were also held at the Marina Bay Sands skating rink. But Allaster wants to do even more to keep fans engaged with their top athletes. She said: “To have such a strong foundation in Year One is a terrific opportunity for us. We have to surprise the fans next year. Now that WSG, STB and Sport Singapore have seen it, they’ve got lot of ideas on how to enhance what is already a 10 out of 10 in my books.”

Commenting on the lighting issues, which drew complaints from players, and a leaky roof during a doubles match on Wednesday, Allaster said: “You have live events and there are a lot of moving parts in a building, new systems and people are not used to everything. What is most important to us is that the problem was fixed immediately. The roof needs to be fixed, it’s obvious why it needs to be fixed, so that will be on the agenda.”

Despite the warm welcome from Singapore, the WTA may look to other cities to host the WTA World Cup, a proposed five-day team event offering a prize purse of up to US$5 million.

Said Allaster: “We would want to just focus on the (WTA) finals in one market, and we want these finals to be super successful and if we put in another event, it could stretch the market.

“When it’s time for us to move the finals, we most definitely will be interested to find a way to have a permanent WTA event on the calendar here in Singapore.”

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