WTA Finals: The Top 8 gather in Singapore

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SINGAPORE–You can’t ask for a better line-up: Serena Williams. Maria Sharapova. Simona Halep. Petra Kvitova. Eugenie Bouchard. Agnieszka Radwanska. Ana Ivanovic. Caroline Wozniacki.

In tennis, next to the four Grand Slam events (Australian, French, Wimbledon and US Open), the grandest stage is this one, happening this week, here in The Lion City.

It’s the BNP Paribas WTA Finals. Only the top eight best female players are invited. The total prize money is hefty: $6 million. Plus, there’s an appetizer waiting to be devoured: the year-end ranking. If Serena wins this Sunday, she keeps that top spot. If Sharapova manages to lift that trophy, she’ll snatch the No.1 ranking.

Exciting? Absolutely. We arrived here last Friday and, by then, all the ladies had descended at Changi Airport. On Saturday, we visited the Singapore Sports Hub — an expanse of multiple complexes, housing an aquatic center, tennis courts, indoor arenas, the Singapore Indoor Stadium and the 55,000-seater National Stadium (same seating as our Phil. Arena!). The entire Sports Hub costs S$1.3 billion.

At the OCBC Indoor Arena, we got to see the “girls.” Yes, this event is purely for girls. The men will have their year-ending finale during the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London from November 9 to 16. So, for now, it’s all about the girls.

This is the beauty of tennis: the beauty of the tennis players. The first player to practice when we entered the arena? She’s 6-foot-1, born in Russia but now a Florida resident, and her boyfriend is Grigor Dimitrov.

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Maria Sharapova practiced from 10 to 11 last Saturday morning in plain Nike attire. She was relaxed. Three bodyguards (okay, they were her coaches and hitting partners) accompanied the world’s most photographed female athlete. She’s super-tall and smothers that yellow ball with the fierceness of a Bengal tiger (like the one we saw yesterday at the Singapore Zoo). She hit cross-courts, topspin volleys, down-the-line backhands. By hour’s end, she stopped by the sidelines to sign autographs before exiting.

Next in line? A player who, to me, looks even prettier, especially in person: Eugenie Bouchard. Only 20, she has that golden face and a tennis game that’s golden. Wearing short shorts and a loose black Nike top that would rise often to reveal her abs, Bouchard smacks that ball with a short backswing. She powers her shots with as much force as Maria.

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My wife Maria (Ma. Jasmin) and I were discussing women’s tennis. This is why the lady-players are so famous, led by Sharapova, who’s been often voted the most recognizable face among the planet’s women athletes.

It’s because of this combination: athleticism and beauty. These are some of the best athletes; they’re also the prettiest. Apart from Sharapova and Bouchard, also here in Singapore, though we have yet to see her, is the lady from Serbia: Ana Ivanovic. A former world No. 1, she had the “misfortune” last night of facing one of the all-time greats: Serena Williams.

Yes, SW is in SG. This is terrific news. Prior to our arrival, I had read articles saying that she might not come to Asia. Nursing an injured knee, she could have rested to recuperate. But no, Serena is here and, as an 18-major (in singles) champion and the winner of her last 15 matches at the WTA Finals (she won in ’09, 2012 and 2013), she’ll be very, very difficult to beat.

Back to the practice courts last Saturday: Of the three indoor courts, the middle one was occupied by Wozniacki and Halep. Wozniacki is famous for being the “ex-girlfriend of Rory McIlroy.” Scheduled for marriage this year-end, they split. While that was painful, their golf and tennis games resurrected; Rory is back to No.1 while Wozniacki is back in the WTA Finals.

Halep is not a famous name. Yet, she’s ranked No. 3. Small at 5’5”, she must be the fittest of them all. Before she hit the court, she stretched and did a myriad of training exercises at the side court for over half an hour.

As the banners here proclaim, it’s… Game. Set. Singapore.

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