WTA Insider breaks down the draw for the 2019 Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, where the tour’s new generation aims to put a final stamp on a breakout season.
SHENZHEN, China – The draw for the 2019 Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen is out and the season-ending grand finale will feature a fascinating clash between youth and experience in the final event of the season.
 Ashleigh Barty: 4-6 (1st meeting vs. Bencic)
 Naomi Osaka: 4-5
 Petra Kvitova: 8-4
 Belinda Bencic: 4-4
 Karolina Pliskova: 8-11 (3-7 vs. Halep)
 Bianca Andreescu: 2-0
 Simona Halep: 11-7
 Elina Svitolina: 7-10
2018 Singles Final:  Elina Svitolina d.  Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.
Youth vs. Experience clash in inaugural Shenzhen staging
In a 2019 season dominated by the surge of the 23-and-under talent on tour, the final event of the season will once again see a clash of The Youth and The Veterans who make up The Now.
The Red Group seeds three of the four youngsters – Barty (23), Osaka (22), and Bencic (21) – drawn together along with the oldest player in the field, 29-year-old Petra Kvitova.
The group offers Kvitova, who is a combined 8-4 against the three, a great opportunity to avenge four of her toughest losses of the season. Osaka edged Kvitova in three sets to win the Australian Open in January, Barty earned her first win over Kvitova in a 7-6(6) 3-6 6-2 win in the Miami Open quarterfinals and a 4-6 6-4 6-3 win in the Beijing quarterfinals a few weeks ago. Add to that her 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 loss to Bencic in the Dubai final and Kvitova won’t be short of motivation.
“I just realized yesterday that I’m the oldest one of them, which feels pretty weird,” Kvitova told reporters at WTA All Access Hour. “But I’m going to take it. I spoke with Simona, she’s just one year younger. We made some fun of it.
“But we’ll see. They are here for the first time – not Naomi – but those who are here for the first time, not the last time probably. We’re going to see them often, I think.
“The new faces are coming. It’s normal that the generation is just changing.”
Kvitova sits third on the list of active players in the number of appearances at the WTA Finals, 7, with Halep now qualifying for her 6th consecutive WTA Finals and appearing in her 5th (the Romanian qualified but withdrew due to injury last season). Only 10 women have ever advanced to the final in their tournament debut, which both Kvitova (2011) and Halep (2014) did, and the Czech is one of just four women to win the title in her first appearance.
Barty, Andreescu, and Bencic each have a chance to make it five.
“Not sure if the experience it’s better or no,” Kvitova told reporters at WTA All Access Hour.
“I mean, I won it like my first Final without any experience. I’m not sure if it’s about that.”
“I probably had everything that’s coming with the WTA Finals. I had to pull out once. I won it once. I have been in the final.
“Every WTA Finals is just different.”
The Purple Group sees tournament debutante, 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu, take on three WTA Finals stalwarts, in two-time semifinalist Karolina Pliskova, 2014 finalist Simona Halep, and defending champion Elina Svitolina. The reigning US Open champion is 2-0 against her group, with wins over Pliskova and Svitolina during her title runs in Toronto and Indian Wells, respectively. She will face one of her idols, Halep, for the first time on Monday.
Given her career 8-1 record against Top 10 opponents – her only loss came in the Beijing quarterfinals to Osaka – it certainly seems like the confident Canadian was built for the WTA Finals pressure-cooker.
“I found that I deal pretty well under pressure,” Andreescu said. “Don’t ask me how. I think my game just elevates to another level unconsciously, which I’m really grateful for. I think that’s why I play my best against the top players.
“That was more when I was an underdog, so let’s see how it is now.”
Now 22-years-old, Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic made her Top 10 debut when she was 18-years-old in 2016 and is now into her first WTA Finals after a last-minute push at the Kremlin Cup, where she secured the final qualifying spot en route to her second title of the season.
“I feel like the average has definitely come down with younger players. I definitely feel that’s because the tour is changing, everyone is fighting to take the lead. The older players are slowly retiring and just everything is changing. I think that’s pretty natural.
“Maybe in some years there will be, again, clearly someone dominating or not. We don’t know. I think everyone wants to take this spot of being the top girls that are leading the tour.
“For me, I feel like I’m here a long time, but still I don’t feel like I’m one of the older players. I still feel like I have a lot of time.
“Maybe it’s good I’m one of the younger ones but with more experience.”
Ashleigh Barty on the brink of securing the Year-End No.1.
Having already finished the regular season at World No.1 and winning the Porsche Race to Shenzhen, Barty finds herself in prime position to become the first Australian Year-End WTA World No.1 and youngest since 2012.
To become the 14th woman to hold the year-end No.1 ranking, Barty must either win one of her first two round-robin matches or simply play all three round-robin matches. If she falls short in either endeavor, the door will open for Pliskova or Osaka to overtake her final point total with undefeated runs to the title.
Barty, Osaka, Andreescu, and Bencic jockey for intragenerational bragging rights
Barty led the tour in regular-season wins with 52, picking up three titles on all three surfaces and making the Round of 16 or better at all eight of the tour’s biggest events (Slams and Premier Mandatories). At 22-years-old, Osaka is the youngest multiple Slam winner, tallying wins over Barty and Andreescu en route to her second Premier Mandatory title in Beijing. Andreescu’s incredible rise – she was ranked No.243 12 months ago – includes a 48-5 record, a US Open title, Indian Wells title, and Toronto title. Meanwhile, Bencic comes into Shenzhen with the most Top 10 and Top 5 wins of anyone on tour this season, notching nine Top 10 wins and 6 Top 5 wins.
Barty, Osaka, and Bencic are set to fight it out in the Red Group. Andreescu could be waiting in the semifinals. Rankings aside, each has an opportunity in Shenzhen to move to the head of the class.
Prepare to grind: Slow conditions could prove tricky
The general consensus amongst the players, both doubles and singles, is that the combination of court and balls at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre are playing slow. Pliskova described the conditions as being slower than the court in Singapore and Barty noted a lower bounce.
“It’s a little bit of a similar surface to an indoor Fed Cup surface, where it’s on boards, a little bit lower bouncing at times, can be a little bit unpredictable with how it reacts to spin,” Barty said. “I think sometimes it can be up and down, a little bit different.
“But in saying that, it’s a beautiful court. We’ve had a few days to prepare and get used to it. It’s no different to any other time we need to give yourself a few days to get used to the court.”