The leading ladies of the WTA tour kick-start their final campaign of 2011 at the year-end WTA Championships in Istanbul, with Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova battling to finish the year as the world No. 1.
Taking place in Istanbul for the first of a three-year stretch, the 41st incarnation of the year-end Championships brings together the world’s top eight ladies’ singles players and top eight ladies’ doubles teams for a week-long round-robin extravaganza.
Seven different countries are represented among the eight qualifiers for the second year in succession, a dramatic contrast to 2004, when five of the eight in the field were from Russia.
World No.1 Wozniacki leads the Red group, and is joined by Vera Zvonareva, Agnieszka Radwanska and Victoria Azarenka, fresh from claiming the Luxembourg title.
Over in the White group, Sharapova will be competing alongside US Open champion Samantha Stosur, Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and French Open champion Li Na.
For Wozniacki, the week in Turkey represents an opportunity to end the year as world No.1 for the second year in succession, having spent a total of 58 weeks in the top spot to date.
“That would mean a lot to me [to finish No.1] since, you know, it's not a lot of people have finished a year two times and especially not two times in a row as No. 1,” Wozniacki said. “So definitely that's something that I would like to do.”
But she will have to be on her best form to avoid the dangers posed by world No.2 Maria Sharapova, returning to competition after injuring her ankle in Tokyo.
“I think I’m just fortunate enough to be here and I'm gonna be competing,” Sharapova said. “That, to me, is a big accomplishment by itself. So whether it's No. 1 or 2, whatever it is, I'm very pleased that I made it here and that I have a chance to compete and do well.”
Other players to watch out for include Radwanska, the Moscow champion, Luxembourg champion Azarenka, and Kvitova, recently crowned world No.3, who won her first title since Wimbledon earlier this month.
Kvitova opens against Zvonareva in the first match of the day, followed by Wozniacki against Radwanska, and Sharapova against Stosur.