WTA Finals: Radwanska and Cibulkova wins raise format questions

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On Sunday, Dominika Cibulkova became the second successive woman to win the WTA Finals with a 3-2 win/loss record. Last year, I was appalled that such an event could occur. This year, I’m almost past caring. But the WTA should not be.

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Singapore, 2015. Agnieszka Radwanska waves to the crowd, reaching a hand to cover her tear-stained face. She has just beaten an erratic Petra Kvitova in three sets to claim the WTA Finals crown. A one-time major finalist, it is the biggest title of her career to date. And Radwanska has recovered from losing her first two matches of the week to claim it.

Skip ahead one year, and many are joking that the crafty Pole will produce these comeback skills again. It is, after all, one of the stranger fields in recent times. With Wimbledon champion Serena Williams opting to bypass once again, Victoria Azarenka on maternity leave and Maria Sharapova banned for drug usage, three of the WTA’s headline names are absent from the draw. Venus Williams’ year has ebbed to the point where qualification is impossible, Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova have spent vast spells of the season in no-man’s-land, and Ana Ivanovic and Lucie Safarova are languishing outside the world’s top 50.

Consequently, it is up to Angelique Kerber, Agnieszka Radwanska, Garbine Muguruza, Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova, Madison Keys, Dominika Cibulkova and Svetlana Kuznetsova to put on a show.

To be fair, they did just that. It was a highly watchable week of tennis. Many were kept enthralled. Kuznetsova saved match point to down Radwanska in her opening clash. The Russian and Pliskova embarked on another marathon encounter the round afterwards. Cibulkova would edge Kuznetsova in a semifinal epic that overflowed with passion and emotion.

But the week ended with a dead net cord, as world no. 8 Dominika Cibulkova – who had scraped into the field via a last-minute tournament victory – ultimately triumphed with just three wins under her belt. And even though the top seed was one of her victors, it does not change the fact that Cibulkova was beaten twice in only five matches contested at the season-ending championships.

Does Cibulkova deserve her trophy? Absolutely, she does – just as Agnieszka Radwanska did last season. Both women accomplished what was required of them to come out on top. The feisty Slovak – who has shown her quality many times before, never more than when she reached the 2014 Australian Open final – deserved her moment in the spotlight. She earned the applause, the jubilation, and the infectious smile as she held aloft the biggest crown of her career.

But the point is, this should not have been allowed to happen. Rather than being a cause for WTA celebration, this should be a cause for WTA concern. They called the field ‘The Greatest Eight’, and the trophy was going to go to the champion of all champions. It went to a woman whose best major showing on the year is was a single quarter-final – which she lost in straightforward fashion – and who had needed Kerber’s straight sets dismissal of Madison Keys to keep her in the competition.

This surely demonstrates a worrisome lack of consistency in the women’s top ten. Even Angelique Kerber was fallible in Singapore. Just when we thought we were seeing some real big-moment greatness below Serena, the 28-year-old lost out in straight sets to a woman she had beaten five times in succession. In her final effort of a stellar season, Kerber hit only 14 winners to 23 unforced errors.

This is not to take anything away from the German, who seems well and truly here to stay. And again, it is not to take anything away from Cibulkova – who returned from injury partway through last season, and played stunning tennis during her 6-3 6-4 win. But surely someone, somewhere, in a place of influence, will suggest the time has come for an alternative to the troublesome Round Robin format?

Here is the other option for the WTA Finals: A knockout event. One like every other tournament that is played throughout the entirety of the year. ‘Knockout’ as in: when you’re beaten, you’re out of contention.

Keep your eight players – it’s not too small a draw. Have a first round, a semifinal and a final. If that is not enough matches for you, then have a play-off for third place before the final. You could even have one for fifth and sixth place, and seventh and eighth – with pairings decided via the number of games and sets won in the players’ opening matches.

And if you’re concerned about someone having the misfortune of drawing the top seed in round one – why? You call them The Greatest Eight, right? Then they should be able to at least believe they can conquer whatever is set before them.

Maybe this format would not prolong excitement and build tension as much as a Round Robin event. Nevertheless, it would prevent the WTA from being in the embarrassing situation of a late qualifier losing two matches en route to a final victory.

And most importantly, nobody would be able to question the quality of the ultimate champion’s prize – or of the ultimate champion herself.

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Thanks for reading! What did you think of the WTA Finals? Does the format needs readdressing? Share your opinions in the comments section!

4 thoughts on “WTA Finals: Radwanska and Cibulkova wins raise format questions

  1. Love this site! Great to be able to find a place where a journalist speaks their mind and where players aren’t judged by their nationality. Looking forward to more posts.

    Like

  2. Great article, I think it is a shame that this has happened two years in a row.
    You don’t want to take any credit away from either player that has won under these circumstances, but you can’t help but question the validity of claiming it as one of the game’s ‘ultimate prizes’ when a player loses multiple matches.
    The WTA, like the ATP, probably enjoy having an alternative format to the standard events because it does set it aside as an end of season spectacle.
    Maybe a double elimination format would work? Could get complicated, but it would generate a greater number of matches than straight knockout – and any players would be out after losing more than once.

    Like

    1. Thanks!

      Yes, I think you nailed it there. And a double elimination format sounds a decent idea. A 4-1 win/loss record is always going to look better than 3-2 – especially if you get revenge on the player responsible for your previous loss (e.g. Djokovic beating Federer in 2015, Serena beating Halep in 2014.) Obviously Cibulkova also did this against Kerber, but with her final record, it just doesn’t have the same effect.

      Like

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