Guadalajara | Azarenka sorts contenders for Fort Worth

The field for the WTA Finals is almost complete as Aryna Sabalenka and Daria Kasatkina secured their spots on Thursday through action at the Guadalajara Open in Mexico, where a face-off between Maria Sakkari and Veronika Kudermetova will decide the last spot at the season-ending event on the women’s tour, which begins on 31 October in Fort Worth, Texas.

It was meant to be. We both had very tough draws. It was not guaranteed that we were going to play each other in the quarter-finals. I think the passion, how much we want it, it got us to the point that we have to play each other just to get that one spot. It’s going to come down to, not who wants it more, but who plays a better match tomorrow. We both have good seasons. That’s why we’re fighting for that spot. Maria Sakkari

The WTA Finals features the Top 8 singles players and doubles teams in the Race to the WTA Finals, but this year there is controversy as no points were awarded for Wimbledon performances because of the illegal war in Ukraine, deemed by many as grossly unfair.

For the second year in a row, The WTA Finals qualification race has been chaotic, with the Wimbledon champion not involved after being eligible.

Last year Ash Barty In 2021, who won her maiden Wimbledon title, pulled out after having spent so much time away from Australia due to Covid-19 restrictions, and then she retired from the Tour after her winning her historic Australian Open title in January.

Now reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, who should have qualified in July had the WTA issued ranking points for this year’s grass court major, failed to make the cut this week, marking the 13th time in 17 years that a Grand Slam winner has not made it to the year-ending finale.

Rybakina’s hopes of making the Finals ended after Jessica Pegula saved 3 match points to emerge the winner, 2-6 6-3 7-6(8).

With Barty, the Australian Open champion, and Rybakina, not taking part, many question whether the WTA Finals line-up is weaker than usual, with the dominant World No 1 Iga Swiatek now the heavy favourite to take the honours.

Aryna Sabalenka, the World No 4, has made it into the WTA Finals in Fort Worth, Texas, which starts on 31 October

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Despite both being beaten in Mexico, Sabalenka and Kasatkina qualified for the 2022 WTA Finals, joining Swiatek, Ons Jabeur, Jessica Pegula, Coco Gauff and Caroline Garcia in the singles draw, with just one place remaining.

Sabalenka, managed to qualify because of Victoria Azarenka’s remarkable run in Guadalajara, and the Belarusian will be making her second appearance at the season-ending tournament in singles, while Kasatkina makes her debut, having previously served as an alternate in 2018.

Azarenka reached her first WTA 1000 quarter-final of the season at the Guadalajara Open Akron on Thursday, ending the WTA Finals hopes of 13th seed Madison Keys with a 6-4 6-7(4) 6-1 win.

Keys had a last-minute chance to make it to Fort Worth with a run to the final, as well as other results breaking her way, but her loss to Azarenka eliminated the American from contention.

A marquee quarter-final between Azarenka and No 5 seed Coco Gauff will take place on Friday in what will be the first meeting between 33-year-old Belarusian and 18-year-old American.

Kasatkina was beaten 6-3 2-6 6-3 by fellow Russian Anna Kalinskaya on Thursday, but has also qualified for Fort Worth, aided by Azarenka’s run.

Maria Sakkari beat Danielle Collins on Thursday and will have to get past Veronika Kudermetova to qualify for the WTA Finals

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Meanwhile, Greek 4th seed Sakkari kept her hopes alive of making the Finals by surviving an early scare and fighting back from a set down to beat American Danielle Collins, 5-7 6-3 6-3.

With the deciding set level at 3-3, Sakkari, who had squandered a set point in the first set, dug deep to win 3 straight games to progress to the quarter-finals, where she will face Russia’s Kudermetova, a 6-4 6-4 winner over Latvian Jelena Ostapenko.

“It was meant to be,” Sakkari said. “We both had very tough draws. It was not guaranteed that we were going to play each other in the quarter-finals.

“I think the passion, how much we want it, it got us to the point that we have to play each other just to get that one spot.

“It’s going to come down to, not who wants it more, but who plays a better match tomorrow. We both have good seasons. That’s why we’re fighting for that spot.

“I don’t care what people say about my season that has been a roller coaster, but all I know is I’m still a Top 10 player. I’m still one of the two players that might get the last spot.”

Sakkari leads the head-to-head 2-1 over Kudermetova, most recently winning their 3rd-round duel at the Australian Open.

Jessica Pegula, who has qualified for the doubles with Coco Gauff at Forth Worth, beat Bianca Andreescu in Guadalajara on Thursday

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Kudermetova stays in the running for the last singles spot at the WTA Finals with her win over Ostapenko, who had beaten her handily in their only previous meeting, in this year’s Dubai final.

The Russian turned the tables, though, with Thursday’s 94-minute victory, slamming down 11 aces as she eased into the quarter-finals.

Kudermetova is still in contention for a singles debut at the prestigious year-ending championships, and is already be there for doubles, as she and her belgian teammate Elise Mertens qualified for that field earlier this month.

Ostapenko came into the match with a slim chance to qualify for singles at the WTA Finals, but she needed to win the title this week.

Nevertheless, the Latvian will be a doubles participant in Fort Worth, as she and Ukraine’s Lyudmyla Kichenok qualified on the same day Kudermetova & Mertens did.

Top-ranked American Jessica Pegula kept her impressive 2022 on track to down former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu from Canada, 6-4 6-4, and will next face compatriot Sloane Stephens, who dispatched France’s Caroline Garcia, 7-6(6) 7-5.

Pegula, a quarter-finalist at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and the US Open this year, looked in trouble when the Canadian broke her to love in the 2nd game of the first set, but she quickly found her form, winning slightly more than 70% of her first-serve points across the entire match.

Coco Gauff, who saw off Martina Trevisan on Thursday, has qualified in both singles and doubles at the WTA Finals

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Gauff, Pegula’s doubles partner, cruised to a 6-0 6-3 Round of 16 win over Italy’s Martina Trevisan to reach her 3rd quarter-final at a WTA 1000 event this year.

Having qualified for both the singles and doubles in Fort Worth, Gauff claimed the first 9 games to race out to an early lead, but it might have been a different match were it not for a crucial hold of serve in the first set at 2-0.

In that 3rd game of the match, Trevisan led 0-40, and had 4 break points before Gauff held her serve and then went on a tear.

The American teenager went on to save the first 7 break points she faced, and although she was eventually broken on the 8th, she denied Trevisan any sustained momentum throughout their second meeting.

Gauff broke again, for a 5th time, before she served out the victory in 61 minutes after saving yet another break point.

“I’m definitely happy with how I played today,” Gauff said afterwards. “Martina’s a great player, she’s had a good season, so she’s never easy to face.

“The serve, and my forehand, set up a lot of short balls for me today.”

Gauff became the youngest player since Maria Sharapova to qualify for the WTA Finals in singles when she defeated Elisabetta Cocciaretto on Wednesday.

Elsewhere, Czech Marie Bouzkova overcame a disastrous start to see off Liudmila Samsonova from Russia,  0-6 7-5 6-3, and will play Kalinskaya next.

Bouzkova, who won her first singles title earlier this year in Prague, took two-and-a-half hours to get past Samsonova, and seems to thrive in Mexico where 2 of her 4 tour-level singles finals have come at Monterrey in 2020 and at Guadalajara this year.

It was Stephens, in fact, who beat Bouzkova to win the Guadalajara WTA 250 in February.

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