Thursday October 23rd, 2014

SINGAPORE -- Serena Williams rebounded. Maria Sharapova did not. And now the race for No. 1 gets interesting.

A day after taking her worst loss in 16 years at the hands of Simona Halep, Serena kept her title hopes alive at the WTA Finals with a 6-1, 6-1 win over No. 5 Eugenie Bouchard in her final round robin match to finish 2-1 in the Red Group. Now comes the waiting game. The only way Serena does not advance to the semifinals is if Ana Ivanovic beats Simona Halep in straight sets on Friday. Halep, who is 2-0 in the group, secured her spot in the semifinals on Thursday after Bouchard was able to win her first service game and avoid a 6-0, 6-0 loss. Having already qualified out of the group, Halep may conserve her energy against Ivanovic and a straight set loss would mean Serena is out. 

Tennis
Simona Halep hands Serena Williams worst loss since 1998

After getting her game back on track on Thursday, Serena credited a long talk with coach Patrick Mouratoglou after her embarrassing loss for the turnaround. "I was able to feed off this belief," she said. "I know that sounds weird, even though I've won so many titles, I still at some point feel like, 'Oh, gosh. Well, maybe I might not be able to do this or maybe I might not be able to do that.' Especially after a loss. Especially the way I performed yesterday. So I definitely don't think that I would've been able to survive today if it wasn't for Patrick."

Her performance against Bouchard was a statement. The negativity in her body language was gone, replaced instead by purpose. At one point in the second set she fired a 127 mph serve that left the audience gasping in awe. She kept the pressure on Bouchard and the youngster couldn't do enough to push her off the baseline. "Playing against the best in the world today, I got my butt kicked, but I had fun," Bouchard said. "It actually motivates me to try to get better."

Much like Serena, Sharapova's chances of advancing are out of her hands after taking her second straight loss this week. Petra Kvitova snapped her five-match losing streak to the Russian, winning 6-3, 6-2. Sharapova now needs to beat Agnieszka Radwanska in straight sets on Friday and have Caroline Wozniacki defeat Kvitova in straight sets to qualify out of the group. Wozniacki took control of the White Group with another straight set win, this time beating Radwanska 7-5, 6-3. Wozniacki, the lowest seed in the tournament, is now 2-0 and will qualify for the semifinals as long unless Radwanska beats Sharapova in straight sets. 

2014 WTA Finals Scenarios
 
WHITE KVITOVA IN 2 KVITOVA IN 3 WOZNIACKI IN 2 WOZNIACKI IN 3
SHARAPOVA IN 2 1. Kvitova
2. Wozniacki
1. Kvitova
2. Wozniacki
1. Wozniacki
2. Sharapova
1. Wozniacki
2. Kvitova
SHARAPOVA IN 3 1. Kvitova
2. Wozniacki
1. Kvitova
2. Wozniacki
1. Wozniacki
2. Radwanska
1. Wozniacki
2. Radwanska
RADWANSKA IN 2 1. Radwanska
2. Kvitova
1. Radwanska
2. Wozniacki
1. Wozniacki
2. Radwanska
1. Wozniacki
2. Radwanska
RADWANSKA IN 3 1. Kvitova
2. Wozniacki
1. Wozniacki
2. Radwanska
1. Wozniacki
2. Radwanska
1. Wozniacki
2. Radwanska

*The order of finish will be determined by games won:
- Ivanovic wins group if she holds Halep to just five games (or six if one set ends 7-5 or 7-6)
- Halep wins group if she wins at least six games (or seven if one set ends 7-5 or 7-6)

After losing a tough three-hour match to Wozniacki on Tuesday, Sharapova continued to struggle to find a good, sustained level of form against Kvitova. She broke early for a 2-0 lead only to see Kvitova find her form and reel off 11 of the next 12 games, including a string of five straight games in both the first and second set. The Russian continued to struggle with her serve this week -- she hit six double-faults and won just 48 percent behind her first serve. 

"I didn't feel as sharp as I did in the previous matches against her," Sharapova said. "She served really well. Not fast, but found her spots really well. Found the corners. I think she had a lot of quick points in her service games." If Sharapova can get out of the group and advance to the semifinals she can still finish the year at No. 1 if she wins the title and Serena fails to make the final. 

Tennis
The Red Group is up for grabs as Ivanovic gets a win over Bouchard

​Kvitova rebounded from an error-strewn loss to Radwanska to play a clean match by her standards. When Sharapova got her on the run she dug in and played some fine defense, reminiscent of her efforts at Wimbledon. The Czech, who has a chance to finish the season as high as No. 2, credited her decision to take the day off on Wednesday. "I was really disappointed when I lost against Aga. It was a match probably [where] I really didn't know what I'm doing. I was so tired and sick of the tennis for a moment. So I didn't practice [yesterday] at all and I just really relaxed and clean my mind a little bit. I knew that I have a game to beat Maria," she said. 

The win was an important one for Kvitova. Since beating Sharapova in the 2011 Wimbledon final to win her first Slam, Kvitova had failed to notch a complete match win. Their rivalry had been developing in the women's game, but Kvitova had lost her edge against Sharapova. Her win today closed Sharapova's lead in their head-to-head to 6-3. Kvitova said she needed it. "It was the third meeting this year, and I finally made it," Kvitova said. "Of course I'm happy for it. The most important match I won it, in the Wimbledon, so that's important, as well."

Whether Kvitova can hold her form to beat Wozniacki is a tougher question. The two have split their eight meetings but this is their first match in over a year. Wozniacki won their last match at the 2013 Western & Southern Open 3-6, 6-2, 6-3. "I know that she improved a lot," Kvitova said. "She's not only running and pushing the balls back, but I think she's playing a little bit more aggressive than she did before."

Serena will have to sit back and watch on Friday to see whether she'll be playing in Saturday's semifinals. She joked that she may even go the Mariah Carey concert that is happening at the Singapore Sports Hub in the evening. "If I don't qualify, I'll be sad, I guess, but wasn't my year," she said. "I'm not going to fall out and die. At least I won my last match, and get ready like I been saying since Cincinnati, for next year. I feel like 2015 is going to be a better year for me. I believe that and I'm ready for that."

Here's the schedule for Friday:

[2] Maria Sharapova vs [6] Agnieszka Radwanska
[3] Petra Kvitova vs [8] Caroline Wozniacki 
Not Before 7:30 pm
[4] Simona Halep vs [7] Ana Ivanovic 

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.