Tennis: Venus at number one? Could happen at WTA Finals

There is a possibility that Venus Williams, 37, will return to the top of the rankings for the first time since 2002. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2017
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Tennis: Venus at number one? Could happen at WTA Finals

SINGAPORE: A supremely unpredictable women’s tennis season will culminate in fitting style at the elite WTA Finals, where seven out of eight players can win the trophy and also be crowned year-end world number one.
Simona Halep, who became 2017’s fifth number one earlier this month, leads a field which also throws up the beguiling possibility of Venus Williams, 37, returning to the top of the rankings for the first time since 2002.
Women’s tennis has been on a rollercoaster ride this year, with four different major-winners and no player able to dominate in the absence of Serena Williams, who took a break to give birth to her first child.
Halep said the result was that every match would be “like a final” in Singapore, where action gets underway at the Indoor Stadium on Sunday.
Garbine Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina, Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Ostapenko can also become world number one at the tournament, while Caroline Garcia becomes the first Frenchwoman to reach the Finals.
“We have the top eight players in the world, and everyone is playing crazy tennis. I just want to go there and to try to win every match I can,” said Romania’s Halep.
Wimbledon champion Muguruza was deposed as world number one by Halep but she said she would have to be at her very best if she wants to win the year-end trophy and rankings crown on October 29.
“It is important, I’m not going to lie, but I know I have to play well,” Muguruza told reporters, when asked about returning to the top of the rankings.
“I know there are so many girls, players, that have the chance. I’m happy that I got it in the past, and now I’m not that nervous or obsessed. I think it’s different. (But) I’m going to fight for that.”
Halep faces debutantes Svitolina and Garcia in the Red Group round robin, along with the veteran Wozniacki, while Muguruza is in White Group with Williams, Pliskova and French Open champion Ostapenko.
Garcia may be the lowest-ranked player, but she is on an 11-match winning streak after her back-to-back victories in Wuhan and Beijing.
Williams, the only player in the field to have lifted the Billie Jean King Trophy — in Doha in 2008 — said the WTA Tour’s strength in depth had made for an outstanding season.
“Just the depth in the game. The competition is so much greater. It’s a beautiful change, in fact,” she said.
Williams, resurgent after her battle with Sjogren syndrome, an autoimmune disorder, has had a remarkable year, reaching two Grand Slam finals and qualifying for the WTA Finals for the first time since 2009.
The Czech Republic’s Pliskova, another of this year’s world number ones, said it was impossible to tell who will finish on top next weekend.
“It’s very tough to get there, but on the other hand, we are all so close to everyone now on the ranking,” she said.
“So this tournament is really going to decide who is going to finish the year world number one. I think everybody has a good chance,” added Pliskova.


Meet the Saudi Arabian businessman shaping squash’s Olympic dream

Updated 54 min 2 sec ago
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Meet the Saudi Arabian businessman shaping squash’s Olympic dream

LONDON: A Saudi Arabian businessman is driving the bid to get squash included in the Olympics for the first time.
The World Squash Federation has petitioned three times for squash to join the Games, but each bid has been rejected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The decision has prompted frustration in the squash community, particularly as sports such as climbing, surfing and skateboarding have been admitted.
Ziad Al-Turki is the Chairman of the Professional Squash Association (PSA) and has done wonders in marketing the game and broadening its appeal. He is now pushing hard for the game to be showcased on the biggest stage of all at the 2024 Olympics Games in Paris.
Squash has huge global appeal, with the men’s singles final in the last Commonwealth Games attracting a TV audience of more than one million.
“Everyone’s ultimate goal is the Olympics,” said Al-Turki. “The main push comes from the World Squash Federation (WSF) and for many years they were stuck in their ways. We changed a lot at the PSA and ticked every box with the IOC. The WSF just stayed stagnant and didn’t do anything. They didn’t want to put our hand in their hand and work together.”
Relations between the PSA and the WSF came to a head in 2015 in the wake of squash losing out to wrestling for a spot at the 2020 Olympics. A statement from the PSA described the then president of WSF, Narayana Ramachandran, as an “embarrassment to the sport.”
“Nothing could happen with the president of the WSF. Nothing would change. It was just a one-man show. We tried to help but he wouldn’t accept any help,” Al-Turki said. “We have a new president now and they are all very keen,” he added.
Jacques Fontaine is the new president and at his coronation in 2016 he encouragingly said “the Olympic agenda remains a priority.”
“The WSF love the sport and they understand the needs of the IOC,” said Al-Turki.
“They understand the PSA is at a completely different level to the WSF and we’ve now joined forces and are working together. Hopefully 2024 will be the year squash is in the Olympics. Right now, the way we are working together is the strongest collaboration ever and hopefully we can tick all the boxes for the IOC.
“We ticked all the right bodies as a professional association but the WSF didn’t. Now they are putting their hands in ours and we will tick all the right boxes for the ICO.”
Al-Turki, once described as the Bernie Ecclestone of squash, has certainly transformed the sport since he took up office in 2008.
“When I joined the PSA we didn’t have any media coverage,” he said. “Right now we are live in 154 countries. the women’s tour has just grown stronger and stronger — the income has gone up by 74 percent.
“I just love the squash players. I think they are incredible athletes are are some of the fittest athletes in the world. I felt they deserved better and I wanted them to have better.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to reach the levels of football and tennis in terms of exposure and prize money, but I want to reach a level where they will retire comfortably. It’s one of the fastest growing sports in the world right now.
“It’s all about the player and their well being. Nick Matthew retired recently and I think he’s retired comfortably. I think I’ve contributed to this as the income has improved. That’s all I want – nothing more.”