Safina to finally prove she’s the true number one?
The WTA Tour Championships kick off in Doha on Tuesday and Dinara Safina will have a point to prove as she goes into the event as the number one ranked player in the world.
Much has been made over the Russian's rank over the past year or so, she has played well in some of the lesser tournaments and even looked good in some of the Grand Slams - but when it comes to the crunch at the business end of a major tournament she seems to let the pressure get to her.
This year alone she's lost in the Australian Open final, the French Open final - when she looked outstanding before losing in straight sets against Svetlana Kuznetsova - and the Wimbledon semi-final, where she didn't look anywhere near as impressive compared to her other two Grand Slam appearances and was comprehensively beaten by Venus Williams.
Despite her failings in slams though she's more than capable of delivering the goods in Doha and at 9/1 she's incredible value considering some of her group opponents.
Let's take a look at the rest of the players in the White Group.
US Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki (12/1) is developing into a fine player and has just reached a career high of number four on the latest WTA Tour Singles Rankings, the Dane has three titles to her name in 2009 and reached the semis in Osaka at the start of October.
However she is under scrutiny from the WTA after retiring through injury despite the fact that she was a set and 5-0 up at a recent game in Luxembourg, her father allegedly told her (in Polish) to retire before finishing the game as she would've been injured for the next round and this was picked up by Polish speaking people in the crowd.
If she is indeed not fully fit then it might be best avoiding her, but over the last year she has looked impressive and should the injury not be as serious as it seems then she could be worth an each way shout but would more than likely have to defeat Serena Williams in the semi-finals.
Belarusian ace Victoria Azarenka (9/1) is the 6th ranked player in the tournament, but hasn't been in a final since March when she won the last of three titles for the year. Decent enough runs at the French and Wimbledon prove she does have staying power in the big events but on her current form I don't think she'll be able to challenge Safina and Wozniacki to get out of this group.
Jelena Jankovic is the final player in the group and on her day can be a dangerous opponent, but far too often she makes sloppy mistakes and is nowhere near the level she was in 2008 when she was briefly the number one in the world.
To be fair to the Serb though she won in Cincinnati at the end of August and saw off some decent players on the way including Azarenka, Dementieva and Safina, consistency is a problem though and after seeing her displays in the last two tournaments in Beijing and Moscow I wouldn't expect her to challenge here despite her odds of 11/2.
The Maroon Group is much the stronger of the two, with the players having won 20 Grand Slam titles between them, Serena Williams is undoubtedly the standout player in this section.
The American ace, who is currently number two in the world, doesn't have the same problems when it comes to reaching and winning the big finals that Safina does, and has 11 Grand Slam titles to her name; including a Career Slam of Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.
Sometimes though her lack of motivation allows her to under-perform at some of the other 'small' tournaments, in fact the American hasn't won a tier I event in a year and a half; but what does that matter when you win two out of the four slams for the year!
She of course is the favourite to win the Tour Championships, which she has done only once previously when her opponent Lindsay Davenport pulled out injured, since then she's appeared in the final twice and lost in 2002 and 2004.
Aside from the two slams that Serena has won, she's had a solid if not spectacular year and has only reached one other final; but if she brings the right mentality to Doha it's her tournament for the taking, and after her less than flattering words about Safina's ranking position, she'll be determined to finish the year as the number one in the world, she'll do just that if she wins the title at odds of 2/1.
As ever at these events one of her closest rivals will be her older sister Venus (6/1), who like Serena hasn't had the year that she would expect; two titles isn't a bad haul for your regular player but when you've amassed a whopping 41 in your career - you expect more.
Of course if she's in the mood she can be frighteningly good, as proved when she cruised to the final of Wimbledon before losing her 7th Grand Slam final, (all to her sister) but her displays at the US were poor and it took a 6-0 1st set demolition from Kim Clijsters to give her a kick up the backside, eventually she lost the game and Clijsters went on to win the title in emotional scenes.
French Open Svetlana Kuznetsova is the 3rd highest ranked player in the tournament and comes to Doha on the back of a win in Beijing, only dropping one set en route to winning the title and beating the previously in-form Agnieszka Radwanksa in the final.
Since her triumph at Roland Garros though, the Russian hasn't played to the standards that we have come to expect from her over the last couple of years, this is despite the fact that she is now the world number three.
If she starts well she could be in with a shout for a runners up spot and the semi-final place that it brings, but if Venus and Elena Dementieva perform as we know they can then she could be left with the Maroon Group wooden spoon. She's odds of 5/1 to win the tournament but I don't think it represents great value.
The player that could a dark horse for this one is Dementieva at 8/1; who is regarded by some as one of the best players to have not won a Grand Slam.
The Russian started the year in outstanding form, winning two straight titles and getting to the semis of the Aussie Open, she's kept up her form most of the way through the year and always seems to be involved in the latter stages of tournaments she enters, she was also just a shot away from getting to the Wimbledon final before Serena stormed back.
Unfortunately for the Olympic Gold medallist she's landed herself in the toughest group and if the Williams are on top of their game then 3rd place could be the best she hopes for, any slip ups from the American sisters though and she will surely be there to pounce upon them.
It promises to be a fantastic week of tennis, and remember right here at William Hill is the place to be to bet on pre-match and live markets as we offer a wealth of markets on every single match.