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2019 WTA Finals are loaded with storylines on and off the court

Matt Zemek

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Robert Deutsch - USA TODAY Sports

The biggest story at the 2019 WTA Finals — in which the year-end championship tournament of women’s tennis will be played in Shenzhen, China, for the first time — is not an on-court story.

Tumaini Carayol wrote the essential story of this tournament, which occurs weeks after the NBA and LeBron James endured international embarrassment for revealing their cowardice in the face of the Chinese government on Hong Kong:

The WTA played the past several years in Singapore, another place on the planet which is not a champion of human rights. Women’s tennis has very consciously tried to expand globally and tap into East Asian markets. That in itself isn’t wrong, but the Hong Kong situation and the entanglements of commerce and geopolitics have thrust inconvenient tension points and questions upon larger sports entities.

This is definitely part of the backdrop to the first WTA Finals to be played in Shenzhen.

The question has to be asked: Will the WTA celebrate this new venue, and then back out of its long-term commitment to Shenzhen?

Asking the question doesn’t mean it will be answered the right way. Asking the question is meant to remind everyone in tennis that some things are more important than making a dollar or Euro. The WTA will have to wrestle with this, and if we don’t view this as the No. 1 story in Shenzhen, we’re losing perspective on what REALLY matters.

Okay, point made.

Now let’s get to the tennis.

Wow.

This is a tournament PACKED with delicious storylines.

Bianca Andreescu gets to play Simona Halep in the Romanian-blood matchup we have waited to see. Halep has carved out a path Andreescu has followed. Seeing them meet for the first time at an event of considerable significance is a treat for global tennis fans, Romanians most of all… and that is just one of many treats awaiting us at the WTA Finals.

Ash Barty, the World No. 1, exists in a tough group with Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova, and Belinda Bencic. That group is the Group of Death in Shenzhen. It is entirely possible that an elite player will leave China with an 0-3 record.

Yet, all Barty has to do to secure the year-end World No. 1 ranking is to complete her three round-robin group stage matches or win one of her first two singles matches. Barty would become Australia’s first year-end World No. 1 singles player since Lleyton Hewitt in 2002. More than that, she would become the first year-end World No. 1 WTA singles player outside Europe or the United States.

That’s a big piece of tennis history, waiting to be made in Shenzhen.

We will get to see the Barty-Bencic match we never got to see at Wimbledon.

We will get to see Elina Svitolina try to defend her 2018 WTA Finals title, which — if she could do it — would make her a centerpiece player entering Australia in January.

We will get to see if Bianca Andreescu can make herself the player everyone wants to beat in Melbourne.

We will get to see if Andreescu and Osaka can take their magnificent Beijing match and find a way to reunite in the semifinals or final, which would be the ultimate blockbuster match at this tournament if it happened.

On a broader level, we will see if the WTA Finals — for the fifth straight year — produce a champion from the four lower seeds. The last time a top-four seed won this tournament was 2014, when No. 1 seed Serena Williams lifted the trophy.

The last four champions have been seeded fifth (2015), seventh (2016), and sixth (2017 and 2018).

In a women’s tennis year defined by its unpredictability, a top seed winning the WTA Finals would be an appropriate plot twist.

We gonna see. Let’s roll in Shenzhen, moral complexities aside.

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Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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