Barely 48 hours after late wildcard Svetlana Kuznetsova successfully defended her Kremlin Cup title in Moscow to pinch the last place in the eight-woman WTA Finals draw, and thus deny Australian Daria Gavrilova her first WTA tournament win, the Russian is due on court for her opening round-robin match in Singapore.
Ideal? No. Unfortunate for Briton Johanna Konta, who was frocked-up and ready to go at Sunday’s draw ceremony but is now relegated to the role of alternate? Certainly. Untidy enough to prompt measures to avoid a repeat of such a scenario in the future? Probably.
Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova kisses her trophy. Photo: AP
“I’m sure that the WTA is also, like, thinking how to change this, because it’s for sure not the best option,” said world No.1 Angelique Kerber, among those to express sympathy for Konta.
Another was third seed Simona Halep. “I think it’s a bit tough for them because Johanna is here and waiting to see; Svetlana is playing the match now today for qualify. So it’s not easy for them,” the Romanian said.
Disappointed: Daria Gavrilova. Photo: AP
“It’s a bit tough, but I think the people are working on this. They will change something because I think it’s better for the players to know before.”
Kuznetsova/Konta had been drawn in the Red Group, and the former will open her sixth WTA Finals campaign – but first in seven years – on Monday night against second seed and defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska. The dual grand slam champion got to celebrate her 17th career title with a 10-plus hour flight to Singapore, where her Polish rival was one of the first to arrive and acclimatise.
The ATP has avoided the potential for any such problem by keeping a week clear between the last qualifying event, the Paris Masters, and the season-ending World Tour Finals, currently held in London. The WTA, which finishes its year earlier, has no such insurance, but chief executive Steve Simon has indicated that a calendar adjustment is a priority.
Konta may yet get to play, like seven previous alternates in the 13 years since the current format was introduced, and the Australian Open semi-finalist will be compensated with $90,000 for staying in town and on stand-by. But those already guaranteed their places felt for the players still sweating on the last vacancy.
Waiting game: Johanna Konta. Photo: Getty Images
“It’s amazing that this is happening, that there is one girl that has to win (to make it),” said French Open champion Garbine Muguruza. “That’s the worst. I think it’s so tough for both of them. For sure Johanna is thinking, ‘oh, if she wins I’m not going to be able to play’. The other one is like, ‘if I win I qualify’.
“So it’s such a weird moment. I think it’s bad because (Konta) can not enjoy it. I think she had an amazing year. She improved so much. She’s top 10 now. So I think she deserves also to be on stage with us.”
Gavrilova, meanwhile, was reduced to tears after a competitive start against Kuznetsova was followed by the loss of 10 consecutive games, her first WTA final ending 6-2, 6-1. Emotions spilled over during and after the match for the native Muscovite, now an Australian citizen and Olympian, who was playing in front of her parents Alexey and Natalia.
Yet Gavrilova can be encouraged by her recent results, having struggled at times since making her first grand slam round-of-16 appearance at Melbourne Park in January. She reached the quarter-finals of the China Open – a Premier Mandatory event – and upset Kerber en route to the semis in Hong Kong before her Kremlin Cup run, leaving the 22-year-old with a career-best ranking of 24th and guaranteed a first Australian Open seeding.
She has also booked the first alternate’s spot at the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, China, and is one late withdrawal away from joining compatriot Sam Stosur in the eight-strong field for the last tournament of the womens’ year.