The 2022 WTA Finals kick off Monday in Fort Worth, Texas, where the top eight women will face off for the final time this season.
Returning to the United States for the first time since 2005, the season finale championships will take place at the impressive Dickies Arena from October 31-November 7.
World number 1 Iga Swiatek headlines the peloton which includes Ons Jabeur, Jessica Pegula, Coco Gauff, Maria Sakkari, Caroline Garcia, Aryna Sabalenka and Daria Kasatkina.
Here’s a look at the main talking points ahead of the WTA season finale.
Historic beginnings for Jabeur
One of four WTA Finals debutants at the Fort Worth singles draw, Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur will write yet another chapter of her name in the history books by becoming the first Arab or North American player to African to qualify for the closing championships of the season.
The 28-year-old failed to qualify for the WTA Finals last year, but a strong 2022 campaign that saw her win a maiden WTA 1000 crown in Madrid and reach two Grand Slam finals at Wimbledon and at the US Open helped her secure her place in this prestigious contest.
“It just proves that this year has been amazing. Being one of the eight players qualified here is something I’ve always wanted. I started wanting it two years ago, but it happened this year. It definitely proves that I belong to the best players in the world,” Jabeur told reporters in Fort Worth on Saturday.
Seeded n°2, Jabeur arrives in the Nancy Richey Group alongside Pegula, Sabalenka and Sakkari. She holds a combined 6-5 win-loss record against her group rivals and comes to the tournament feeling fresh, having not played a game since her quarter-final exit in Monastir more than three years ago. weeks.
She kicks off her WTA Finals campaign against Belarusian No.7 seed Sabalenka on Monday.
“It’s not the best to start playing against Aryna with all the balls coming very fast,” Jabeur said ahead of his first game.
“We trained together yesterday. So it will be a great game. It will be tough. Whoever is the strongest on the pitch will win. I certainly have my own tactics and I will do my best to overcome his power.
Swiatek the absolute favorite
During the draw ceremony, Kasatkina, Garcia and Gauff all laughed when they realized they had landed in the same group as the ever-dominant Swiatek.
The Polish world No. 1 is 7-0 against Gauff and Kasatkina this season alone and a 1-1 head-to-head against Garcia.
Swiatek has won eight titles in 2022, including Roland Garros and the US Open, and enters the WTA Finals having won 14 of his last 15 matches.
This is her second straight appearance at the WTA Finals, and she can look back on her 24-1 record on American soil this season.
“The WTA Finals is a challenge, but it’s a challenge on its own. It lost very few matches,” Garcia said of Swiatek.
Swiatek, 21, begins his trip to Fort Worth against Kasatkina on Tuesday.
Pegula and Gauff bring hopes home
The first two Americans to be ranked in the top four simultaneously since Serena and Venus Williams in 2010, Pegula and Gauff are making their first WTA Finals appearance and have also qualified in doubles together.
Pegula is coming off the biggest triumph of his career after lifting the trophy at the WTA 1000 event in Guadalajara last week, while Gauff reached a first Grand Slam final earlier this year at Roland Garros.
Pegula, 28, started the year ranked No. 18 in the world and now climbs to a career-high No. 3.
“I don’t think I started the year thinking about making the WTA Finals, but I think as the year went on and it became more of a goal, it was something I’m prouder of now. I was able to accomplish,” she said.
“So, yeah, it’s a huge honour. I think we’re all very excited to be here. I think it’s more of a reward for our great season.
Teenage phenom Gauff is the youngest player to qualify for the WTA Finals since Maria Sharapova in 2005. The 18-year-old Floridian is also the youngest American to qualify for the championships since Lindsay Davenport in 1994.
While those are impressive stats, they’re not ones Gauff spends too much time focusing on.
“I don’t really pay attention to it. Not that I’m not grateful. Of course, I’m really grateful. As far as those stats and stats about my age, I guess… I mean, it’s cool, but I feel like it’s my life, so I don’t find it as amazing or outstanding as the others are watching her,” she said. Explain.
“I was asked a lot about different things at my age. But it’s always crazy to me when I find someone bringing up a stat or something about my age, and I feel like almost every tournament is something new. It will be someone else’s turn soon,” she added with a laugh.
Prize money is still not where it was
Three years ago, Ashleigh Barty earned the highest salary in tennis history when she took home $4.42 million for winning the WTA Finals title with a perfect record in the phase of the round robin in Shenzhen.
The women’s tour had landed a historic 10-year contract with Shenzhen to stage the WTA Finals there from 2019, with the prize money pledged for the event set at an unprecedented $14 million.
After the tournament was held in Shenzhen in 2019, COVID-19 hit, followed by the Peng Shuai controversy, and the WTA Tour has not returned to China since.
Last year the WTA Finals were held in Guadalajara, and this year they found a home in Fort Worth, albeit with a much smaller prize purse.
The total singles prize this week is $4 million – less than Barty won on her own in 2019 – with an undefeated champion walking away with a check for $1.68 million.
The sport is doing all it can to recover from a difficult economic climate, but it still has a long way to go to get back to where it was financially, it seems.