WTA Finals: Who are the favourites in Ashleigh Barty’s absence?

WTA FINALS

The WTA Finals return this week for the first time since 2019 as the top eight singles players battle it out for one of tennis’ most prestigious titles.

While the competition was initially scheduled to take place in Shenzhen, China, travel restrictions have meant the tournament has been relocated to Guadalajara, Mexico.

Reigning champion, Ashleigh Barty, will not compete this year, despite earning the most ranking points this season. The Wimbledon winner has chosen to remain in Australia to relax and recover after a gruelling season that has included four Grand Slams and the Olympics.

But with Barty absent, who is the favourite to emerge victorious in Mexico? Here’s a look at some of the contenders, including the favourite on paper, the in-form star, and a potential dark horse.

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The favourite on paper - Aryna Sabalenka

Aryna Sabalenka has accumulated more ranking points than anyone else on the tour this year, aside from Barty, and enters this competition ranked second in the world.

The Belarusian has won two WTA titles this season, including at the Madrid Open, and has reached the semi-finals of the last two Grand Slams.

On this evidence alone, the 23-year-old appears to be the favourite but Sabalenka has often had questions cast over her ability to perform in big matches. Given the WTA Finals is often dubbed as an unofficial ‘fifth major’, it will be interesting to see how Sabalenka copes with the pressure of being the top seed.

Added to this, Sabalenka has played just one tournament since the US Open –– losing to Ekaterina Alexandrova in the quarter-finals of the Kremlin Cup last month. The world number two could, therefore, be short of some match practice.

Sabalenka

The player in form – Paula Badosa

It’s been a remarkable year for Paula Badosa, who started 2021 ranked 70th and looks set to end it inside the world’s top 10.

The 23-year-old became the first Spanish woman in history to reach the semi-finals of the Madrid Open earlier this season but initially struggled to transfer her form on clay to the hard court surface.

Badosa proved she is one of the finest players on tour at the moment, however, when she claimed victory at Indian Wells, beating a plethora of the world’s top 30 along the way.

Indeed, her last five matches have included wins over Coco Gauff, Barbora Krejčíková, Angeliue Kerber, Ons Jabeur and Victoria Azarenka.

If the Spaniard manages to maintain this form in Guadalajara, she could prove very tough to beat.

Badosa

The dark horse – Anett Kontaveit

After Barty withdrew from the competition, there were a number of players in contention to claim the extra spot in the draw. However, Anett Kontaveit was not one of these names.

Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur looked set to be the final player to qualify, having reached the final in Chicago and then the last four at Indian Wells.

Yet, Kontaveit suddenly emerged out of nowhere. The Estonian won her fourth WTA title at the Kremlin Cup last month, before winning the Transylvania Open a week later.

This 10-match winning streak saw her sneak above Jabeur in the standings –– though the Arab tennis star did congratulate her good friend on the achievement.

While the 25-year-old has never won a tournament above WTA 500 level and only just qualified for the Finals this year, her confidence will be sky-high right now and she may also benefit from playing competitive tennis more recently than most of the field.

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