Serena to show she's simply the best
Serena Williams should underline her status as world number one by winning this week's WTA Championships, says Andy Schooler.
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Serena Williams stands atop women's tennis by some distance right now and should show exactly why in Istanbul this week.
The American has won a highly-impressive 73 of her 77 matches this season, capturing 10 titles in all, including the French and US Opens.
- 5.5pts Serena Williams to win at 8/11 (BetVictor, Boylesports) - the world's best by some distance; should prove it in Istanbul
- 1pt e.w. Petra Kvitova at 9/1 (Spreadex, 1/3 1,2) - former winner has good form and a strong indoor record
- 1pt Jelena Jankovic to win the white group at 7/1 (General) - Azarenka's lack of match practice, plus the format, makes this a good-looking price
Her 2013 run has followed a second half of 2012 which she also dominated. Add the two together and Serena's win-loss record since she linked up with coach Patrick Mouratoglou last June is 104-5.
Over the past year and a half, the Williams serve has reached new heights in terms of the damage it can do, while her always-powerful groundstrokes appear to have gained even more penetration. The forehand can still go awry now and again but it's not as regular an occurrence as it once was.
Williams' level of consistent quality appears to have struck fear into her WTA Championships rivals.
This week the world's best players (minus the injured Maria Sharapova) have gathered in Turkey but the vibe among the players from the pre-tournament media events was that Williams will take some stopping.
It's hard to argue.
In the past, Williams has sometimes approached the season-ending event as something of an after-thought with her season usually reaching its climax at the US Open earlier in September.
Not this time. Since lifting the trophy in New York she's won the Premier mandatory tournament in Beijing where she dominated and didn't lose a set.
Nor last year when Williams won this title, again without dropping a set.
The 8/11 isn't a price which everyone will be interested in but it's easy to argue she should be even shorter.
The doubters will point out Williams suffered shock losses at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon when sent off an odds-on favourite and it's a point worth mentioning.
However, she's rarely been below her best in matches against the top players, her mind seemingly better focused.
Here she faces players who are all supposedly her contemporaries but the round-robin format means she can probably even afford a slip-up in the early stages and still make it to the semi-finals.
Such a scenario appears unlikely though. Williams holds a 13-1 win-loss record against her group rivals - Agnieszka Radwanska, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber.
Indeed of the players here, only Victoria Azarenka has beaten her this season. That happened twice and some will feel the Belarusian is a spot of value at 5/1. I can see the theory, after all I backed her at a similar price at the US Open where she lost in three sets to Williams in the final.
However, the difference here is that Azarenka arrives in Istanbul without a win since New York. Her Asian season was ruined by illness and in this company it may prove difficult to immediately get back in the groove.
Certainly I feel she could come under threat from Kvitova if the pair meet in the last four.
I'm happy to take Kvitova to finish second to Williams in the red group. She leads group rival Radwanska 4-1 in their head-to-head meetings with the solitary defeat coming in this event 12 months ago when she was ill and duly withdrew after the match.
Kvitova has a fine record indoors where her big lefty serve can be of particular use. Indeed, the 2011 Wimbledon champion won the title here two years ago.
Her recent form is also good with the Czech having won in Tokyo and reached the semis in Beijing the following week.
A last-four meeting with Azarenka is a strong possibility and that would be a winnable match with Kvitova having the greater match sharpness.
Of course, if Azarenka is rusty there's a chance she'll fail to justify odds of 8/11 to win her group, which also features Li Na, Sara Errani and Jelena Jankovic. That would be an added bonus to any bet on Kvitova.
It is Jankovic, who has shown some decent form of late, who looks the best bet in the group markets.
Round-robin means it's possible to top the group with two wins and so odds of 7/1 look somewhat large here to me.
The Serb, who beat Kvitova in Beijing en route to the final, is the sort of dogged character who could cause Azarenka problems if the Belarusian is less than 100 per cent, while her head-to-head with Li Na (4-5) gives cause for optimism.
The 7/1 looks worth a punt to small stakes.
- The tournament gets under way at 1500 BST on Tuesday and is being televised live in the UK on British Eurosport and BT Sport.
WTA CHAMPIONSHIPS PLAYER FACTFILES:
2013 win-loss: 73-4 (inc 10 titles; French Open & US Open champion)
Tournament win-loss: 20-5
Tournament record: W 2012, 2009, 2001; RU 2004, 2002; Group stage 2008, 2007 (w/d injured on both occasions)
Recent form: W Beijing (in straight sets)
Win-loss v group opponents: 7-0 v Radwanska; 4-0 v Kvitova; 2-1 v Kerber
2013 win-loss: 56-16 (inc 3 titles)
Tournament win-loss: 5-4
Tournament record: SF 2012; Group stage: 2011, 2009, 2008
Recent form: SF Beijing (bt Kerber, l S Williams); QF Tokyo (l Kerber); W Seoul
Win-loss v group opponents: 0-7 v Williams; 1-4 v Kvitova; 5-3 v Kerber
2013 win-loss: 49-21 (inc 2 titles)
Tournament win-loss: 5-1
Tournament record: W 2011; Group stage: 2012 (w/d ill)
Recent form: SF Beijing (bt Errani & Li, l Jankovic); W Tokyo (bt Kerber)
Win-loss v group opponents: 0-4 v Williams; 4-1 v Radwanska; 2-2 v Kerber
2013 win-loss: 44-21 (inc 1 title)
Tournament win-loss: 0-3
Tournament record: Group stage 2012
Recent form: W Linz; QF Beijing (l Radwanska); RU Tokyo (bt Radwanska, l Kvitova)
Win-loss v group opponents: 1-2 v Williams; 3-5 v Radwanska; 2-2 v Kvitova
2013 win-loss: 43-7 (inc 3 titles; Australian Open champion)
Tournament win-loss: 7-8
Tournament record: RU 2011; SF 2012; Group stage: 2010, 2009
Recent form: L64 Beijing (l Petkovic); L32 Tokyo (l V Williams)
Win-loss v group opponents: 6-4 v Li; 6-1 v Errani; 5-3 v Jankovic
2013 win-loss: 40-13 (1 title)
Tournament win-loss: 2-4
Tournament record: Group stage: 2012, 2011
Recent form: QF Beijing (l Kvitova)
Win-loss v group opponents: 4-6 v Azarenka; 5-0 v Errani; 5-4 v Jankovic
2013 win-loss: 46-22 (inc 1 title)
Tournament win-loss: 1-2
Tournament record: Group stage 2012
Recent form: L16 Beiijng (l Kvitova); L32 Tokyo (l Kuznetsova)
Win-loss v group opponents: 1-6 v Azarenka; 0-5 v Li; 0-1 v Jankovic
2013 win-loss: 45-18 (inc 1 title)
Tournament win-loss: 4-10
Tournament record: SF 2009, 2008; Group stage: 2010, 2007
Recent form: RU Beijing (bt Kvitova, l Williams); L16 Tokyo (l Bouchard)
Win-loss v group opponents: 3-5 v Azarenka; 4-5 v Li; 1-0 v Errani