Only injury or illness can deny Ashleigh Barty the year-end world No.1 tennis ranking.
Barty is in China hoping to crown her triumphant season with victory in the WTA Finals starting on Sunday.
But the Australian superstar doesn’t even need to win a match at the elite eight-woman championships to finish No.1, such is her whopping rankings lead over her rivals.
Barty merely has to complete all three of her pool matches, or win one of her first two to secure top spot at the end of 2019 – and almost certainly also claim the No.1 seeding for January’s Australian Open.
Czech Karolina Pliskova is the only player with a glimmer of hope of crashing the Barty party, but needs a minor miracle to do so.
Pliskova would have to win the title – and be undefeated in five matches – and hope Barty is unable to complete the group stages.
Fittlingly, it was in China this time last year that proved the springboard for Barty’s spectacular 2019 campaign.
— WTA Finals (@WTAFinals) October 25, 2019
Success at the Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, the biggest title of her career to that point and coming after she’d made the final in Wuhan, marked the start of her stunning run.
Fast forward 12 months and the 23-year-old is a grand slam champion boasting three titles and a tour-topping 52 match wins this season.
Runner-up to Naomi Osaka at last week’s China Open, Barty’s watershed year has also featured an undefeated Fed Cup run while leading Australia to its first final since 1993 and a career-best charge to the quarter-finals of her home slam in Melbourne.
She also won her first WTA Premier Mandatory crown at the Miami Open, became the first Australian woman since Evonne Goolagong Cawley 43 years ago to ascend to the top of the rankings and was the only player to make the second week of all four majors in 2019.
Now the Queenslander is tantalisingly close to becoming Australia’s first year-end No.1 since Lleyton Hewitt in 2002.
The humble star was typically elated at being formally recognised as the winner of the Race to Shenzhen at Friday night’s lavish draw ceremony.
“It was already an honour to qualify for the WTA Finals, but to also finish the Porsche Race to Shenzhen on top is an achievement I’m incredibly proud of,” Barty said.
“This is a special tournament for myself and my team and I’ll be fighting hard to finish the WTA season with the Shenzhen title.”
Joining Barty and Pliskova in Shenzhen are Osaka, US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, Wimbledon winner Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Belinda Bencic and defending champion Elina Svitolina.
Pitted in the Red Group opposite second-seeded Pliskova in the Purple Group, Barty will play Osaka, Kvitova and Bencic in the pool stages.
Pliskova will meet Andreescu, Halep and Svitolina.
Groups for the WTA Finals round-robin stages in Shenzhen (prefix denotes seeding):
1-Ashleigh Barty (AUS)
3-Naomi Osaka (JPN)
6-Petra Kvitova ((CZE)
7-Belinda Bencic (SUI)
2-Karolina Pliskova (CZE)
4-Bianca Andreescu (CAN)
5-Simona Halep (ROM)
8-Elina Svitolina (UKR)
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