SHENZHEN, China - The WTA season will culminate in a star-studded first edition of the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, and following the release of the two round-robin groups, the elite eight knows there are no easy matches.
Following Friday night's draw ceremony and gala, each of the Top 8 gave their thoughts on their group placings, ahead of Saturday's official media day and All-Access Hour at the Shenzhen Bay Arena.
Top seed Ashleigh Barty, a two-time doubles participant at the WTA Finals in its last edition in Singapore, will make her singles debut in Shenzhen, and sits atop the Red Group along with Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova, and Belinda Bencic.
"I’m really excited to be here to play singles for the first time. I have played doubles here a couple of times before," the Aussie said.
"I’ve played Naomi and Petra recently in Beijing. [I'm] looking forward to playing Belinda, I don’t think I’ve actually every played her before. It’s a really exciting group."
Osaka and Bencic will renew their 2019 rivarly in the Red Group, with the Swiss taking all three meetings between the two this year: including a fourth round match at the US Open in September to end Osaka's bid for a title defense.
“It’s definitely a very difficult draw. It’s obvious that all the players are difficult," Bencic said. "I have a positive record against one of the players, with one I didn’t play and with one a negative record. I think it’s pretty even for me. My goal is definitely to win at least a match. Hopefully I can do it."
Added Osaka: “For me, I’ve played everyone in my group already this year. I’m super excited to get a couple rematches in. I don’t know, for me this is my second time playing the Finals, so I’m really happy that I was able to come here."
Rounding out the quartet is 2011 champion Kvitova, runner-up to Osaka at the Australian Open. In addition to a Melbourne rematch, Kvitova and Barty will face off for the fifth time this year, while she'll face Bencic for a fourth time.
After beating the Aussie twice on her home soil - to win the title in Sydney and in the quarterfinals in Melbourne - Kvitova lost to Barty in two Premier Mandatory events: Miami and Beijing.
“I think there is no easy player here. Of course it’s difficult. I do play Ash, which I lost twice in our last two meetings in three sets, so it will be a difficult one for sure," the Czech said.
"I played Naomi and lost in the Australian Open final as well, so I will try my best. I do play Belinda, which for her its the first time playing here, so it’s a nice experience for her. We had a few meetings as well. I mean, you cannot choose an easy player. I’m really looking forward to stepping in there and playing. It will be great."
The other Czech in the field, No.2 seed Karolina Pliskova, headlines the Purple Group with a pair of Grand Slam winners: US Open champion Bianca Andreescu and Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, plus defending Finals champion Elina Svitolina.
“I think I have for sure, with Svitolina a positive head-to-head, but of course she is defending champion so she was playing well last year," Pliskova assessed.
"She’s going to be difficult. Maybe if we start on Sunday, it will be a plus because she will be nervous a little bit, but overall, I think the surface is quite slow, so it can suit her game quite good. We practiced today and it was kind of good practice. It’s going to be open.
"With Bianca, I played just one match. She didn’t play much, but mostly she won everything when she played, so she’s on great run. She played well in Asia, too, after she won the US Open, so I feel like she is confident so she is playing well so she’s going to be tough. Also this surface I think can be quite good for her.
"With Simona, I don’t really know which shape she is. I don’t think she was really playing the best in Asia, but this is the last tournament of the season, so I think everybody just tries to play the best and give everything that have left. I don’t have really good record, but the last match I won, so that’s a positive. It’s going to be tough."
Andreescu is the newcomer amongst a group full of WTA Finals veterans, as she makes her debut alongside a trio who've competed at the year-end event a combined nine times.
"I know it’s not going to be easy. Every player in this competition is a tough opponent," the Canadian said. "I’m really looking forward to what I can do against them. Hopefully I can do good things. I played Svitolina and Pliskova once this year, so I kind of know what to expect. Simona, I’ve never played her, but I’ve looked up to her. It’ll be a really interesting match up, so I’m excited."
Halep, who has not played since losing in the second round of the China Open, ended her Asian swing under an injury cloud, having retired from her second round match against Elena Rybakina at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open with a back injury.
"It’s a very tough group. They are playing very solid, and they are very solid, actually," the Romanian said. "It’s a big challenge for me, coming back from an injury to face them, so I will give my best and try to play as good as possible to win the match."
Rounding out the group is reigning champion Svitolina, who won her biggest career title one year ago in Singapore. The seventh qualifier but No.8 seed following Bencic's exploits at the VTB Kremlin Cup in Moscow, the Ukrainian will look to end 2019 on a high.
"There is [no] easy draws here in the Finals. For sure it’s lots of exciting matches," she said. "For me, as last year, I’ll just try to take one match at a time. I don’t look too far ahead. I try to stay really focused on the upcoming match, and that’s the way I will try to do it."
Play begins in Shenzhen on Sunday.