3 storylines to watch at WTA Finals
The 2022 women's tennis season culminates with the year-end WTA Finals in Fort Worth, Texas.
The top eight singles players and doubles duos over the past 10 months will square off in one last tournament with significant points and prize money on the line.
Here are three storylines to watch when the battles begin Monday.
Iga's continued success
It's been an unforgettable season for Iga Swiatek. She ascended to the world No. 1 ranking in April following the surprise retirement of three-time major champion Ash Barty and hasn't looked back.
Swiatek is a dominant 64-8 on the year, with 45 of those victories coming in straight sets. Her 37-match win streak is the longest of the 21st century. The Polish star won 21 sets by a score of 6-0. Since 2000, only Serena Williams served up more bagels in a single campaign.
Swiatek is only the fifth player in the last 22 years to capture eight or more WTA titles in a single season, according to OptaAce. The 21-year-old claimed this year's French Open and US Open in straight sets, and she has yet to drop a set in three career Grand Slam finals.
Swiatek is undoubtedly the player to beat when action begins in the Lone Star State. The season-ending championship will be played on a hard court; six of Swiatek's 11 career titles have come on the surface, including five this season.
Coco, Pegula on double duty
Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula are the only players competing in both singles and doubles play. They're the first pair to participate in both competitions at the WTA Finals since the Williams sisters in 2009, according to OptaAce.
Gauff continues to deliver early on in her promising career. The teenage phenom enters the year-end championships ranked fourth in the world after a 38-19 regular season. She's the first player to qualify for the WTA Finals before turning 19 since Maria Sharapova did so in 2005.
The Florida native had her most consistent campaign to date on the tour, reaching the third round or further in all but one WTA 1000 tournament. While she failed to win a singles title, Gauff took a huge step forward by advancing to her first major final at Roland Garros last June.
Her breakthrough year can be attributed to a newfound perspective: The 18-year-old learned to accept the pressure others put on her instead of deflecting it, allowing her to play more freely.
Meanwhile, Pegula continued her climb up the rankings after a strong 2021 season. The Buffalo native won a personal-best 42 matches and achieved her best Grand Slam results, reaching the quarterfinals at three of the four majors.
Pegula heads into the WTA Finals fresh off the biggest title of her career. The world No. 3 was victorious in the Guadalajara Open final last Sunday and dropped only one set during the tournament, beating four former Grand Slam champions en route to her maiden WTA 1000 crown.
The American veteran also made the quarterfinals or better at four other WTA 1000 events. Over the last two years, no player won more matches at that tier than her.
As Gauff and Pegula soared to new heights in individual play, they simultaneously formed an elite doubles tandem. This season's third-best pairing went 3-1 in finals, with their lone defeat coming in the French Open championship match. In August, Gauff became the second-youngest woman to attain the No. 1 doubles ranking following a second WTA 1000 title of the year in Toronto. But their partnership almost never came to be.
Pegula planned on playing alongside Timea Babos, a four-time major doubles champ and a three-time winner of the WTA Finals, at the Dubai Open last February. However, an injury forced the Hungarian to withdraw on the eve of the tournament. Gauff was also in need of a partner since Caty McNally's singles ranking was too low to gain entry. Gauff and Pegula had a brief playing history together, so they joined forces at the last minute - and the rest is history.
"(Gauff) likes playing with me because I hit the ball so hard, and it's easy for her to move. ... She's just so athletic around the net, in the back of the court," Pegula told theScore at the National Bank Open this past summer. "Has a lot of good intangibles with her volleys, lobs, and a lot of her good gets."
Pegula added: "I think I kind of ... set her up easier at the net. So it makes my job easy, and she says it makes her job easy."
No previous winners on singles side
Regardless of how everything shakes out, there'll be a first-time WTA Finals champion on the singles side. Ons Jabeur, Daria Kasatkina, Gauff, and Pegula are all making their debut at the year-end championships. Aryna Sabalenka and Swiatek each have a singles appearance under their belt, but both crashed out in last year's round-robin stage. Caroline Garcia and Maria Sakkari have the most experience in this competition, reaching the semifinals in 2017 and 2021, respectively.
Perhaps experience plays a factor in who winds up hoisting the Billie Jean King trophy. The WTA Finals' unique format ensures that every early matchup carries a lot of weight. Simply beating your opponent may not be enough - the percentage of sets and games won serve as the tiebreaker in the event three players finish the round-robin phase with identical records. An extra 125 points and $110,000 is also up for grabs with each round-robin victory, so even those out of contention for the knockout stage have an incentive to give it their all.
Knowing how to manage all of these factors could give the lower-ranked Garcia and Sakkari a slight edge over their peers.