Attention switches to Sofia in week 44 of the 2014 WTA Tour, as the WTA Tournament of Champions takes place in Bulgaria.
The word ‘champions’ is applied fairly loosely here, with the qualifying criteria being a title win in an International level event in 2014 or a wild card and the six highest ranked players with such a title and who weren’t in Singapore get in.
As usual one of the wild cards has gone to Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova and the other has ended up being Flavia Pennetta, after the original wild card Jelena Jankovic withdrew. Interestingly JJ is fit enough to play for Delhi in the Champions League in a few weeks.
Sam Stosur has also withdrawn, so her spot has now gone to Garbiñe Muguruza.
The matches are played at the Arena Armeec Sofia on a Playflex indoor hard court that is relaid every year and therefore plays differently each time and this is the final year of a three-year deal to play at this venue.
The eight players have been drawn into two groups of four – the Serdica group, which comprises Kate Makarova, Pennetta, Muguruza and Alizé Cornet, and the Sredets group that has Domi Cibulkova, Pironkova, Andrea Petkovic and Carla Suarez Navarro in it.
As ever at this late stage of the season there are doubts about many of the players here in terms of fitness and health, not to mention motivation, in what is essentially a glorified exhibition event.
Dominika Cibulkova vs Tsvetana Pironkova
The opening match of the tournament at around 16:00 UK time on Tuesday sees the Australian Open finalist take on the wild card and there are doubts about both players in this one.
That Melbourne final must seem a long time ago now for Cibulkova, who has struggled badly in recent months with injury and it’s questionable as to how much practice she’s had lately and how fit she is.
Results have been hard to come by for the Slovak, who has made just one quarter final since April, but today she faces a player who is generally racked by nerves in her home event and consequently performs poorly.
Pironkova has a 1-6 record here and also a 1-6 record against Cibulkova, so in a match where the layers can barely split them I’d lean towards Domi, but her fitness is a major concern.
Alizé Cornet vs Flavia Pennetta
It seems to me, going on what the players have been saying in the last few days and weeks, that Cornet is the one taking this tournament a little more seriously of the two.
Cornet didn’t do too well here a year ago, with two straight sets losses and one win by way of retirement over Maria Kirilenko, but the opposition included an improving Simona Halep then and she has a chance to improve matters today.
The French player enjoyed a good Asian swing, but she was poor in Luxembourg last time out and was doing that strange thing whereby she collapses on serve and Cornet looked tired at that point.
A fortnight off will have helped and with little in the way of real pressure this week she should be able to enjoy the event and she may be meeting Pennetta at the right time.
The Italian has been poor since the US Open, with a 1-3 mark since New York and her 4-0 career mark over Cornet goes back to matches in 07/08 and 09 plus one on grass at Wimbledon last year.
Cornet actually won the opener of that one 6-0 before going on to lose, but on late season form I would give the edge to the French player here as slight underdog.
The third and final match of the day looks tough to bet on, with Petkovic in tears the last time she played and the German at the time was said to be suffering from a wrist issue and some personal problems.
She certainly looked very unhappy in a straight sets loss to Pauline Parmentier in Luxembourg and the week before that she was thrashed by Camila Giorgi in Linz, which explains why she’s underdog against Suarez Navarro.
Back Cornet to beat Pennetta at 1.97