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Ashleigh Barty set for first WTA Finals appearance


SHENZHEN, China -- Top-seeded Ashleigh Barty of Australia is ready to cap off the most successful season of her career with a first appearance in the year-end WTA Finals.

Barty achieved a number of career firsts this season from winning her inaugural Grand Slam title at the French Open, earning world No. 1 status, and leading Australia to the upcoming Fed Cup final.

“It’s been an incredibly consistent year across all surfaces, across all continents in the world,” Barty said. “I feel like (I’ve) played an exceptional level of tennis.”

This year’s WTA Finals, debuting for its scheduled 10-year run in Shenzhen, is welcoming more members of the younger generation to its eight-player lineup than in the recent past.

The 23-year-old Barty is joined in Shenzhen by 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu of Canada, who won her first Grand Slam trophy at the U.S. Open last month; 22-year-old Naomi Osaka of Japan, the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open champion; and 22-year-old Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, the last player to qualify for the field.

Only Osaka of the four has played in the WTA Finals in the past, and lost all three of her round-robin matches in her debut last year. She’s hoping that although she’s arrived here tired from winning the Osaka and Beijing titles, she will have a better showing than in 2018.

“I think last year, the end of the year was just so hectic for me, and I didn’t really remember anything,” Osaka said. “Honestly, by the time I got here, I was just so tired.

Barty, Osaka and Bencic feature in the Red group along with two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic. Andreescu is in the Purple group with reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep of Romania, Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic, and defending champion Elina Svitolina of Ukraine.

This year’s singles winner’s is guaranteed at least $ 4.1 million, which makes it the richest tournament paycheck for men or women in the sport. If the WTA Finals champion goes through to victory with an undefeated 3-0 record in round-robin matches they would earn $4.725 million in prize money.

Many are touting that one of the younger generation will hoist the trophy, but Barty doesn’t believe that any of the players have an advantage over the other competitors.

“In my opinion, I don’t think there ever is a favorite,” Barty said. “I think everyone is deserving to win that’s in the draw. On any given day, anyone can be beaten. That’s the beauty of sport, there are no certainties.”

Andreescu seems remarkably mature and capable of handling all the notoriety that’s come along with her recent U.S. Open victory. This coming week will provide her initial test in dealing with star status at an elite event.

“I found that I deal pretty well under pressure,” Andreenscu 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.”

The WTA Finals start on Sunday in the Red group when Osaka will try to improve her career record to 2-0 over Kvitova, while Barty and Bencic have a first career meeting.