Ashleigh Barty set for 1st WTA Finals appearance in China

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SHENZHEN, China (AP) — Ashleigh Barty of Australia is ready to cap off the most successful season of her career with a first appearance in the year-end WTA Finals.

Barty achieved a number of career firsts this season, winning a Grand Slam title at the French Open, earning the No. 1 ranking and leading Australia to the upcoming Fed Cup final.

"It's been an incredibly consistent year across all surfaces, across all continents in the world," Barty said. "I feel like (I've) played an exceptional level of tennis."

The WTA Finals, which debuts its scheduled 10-year run in Shenzhen on Sunday, is welcoming more members of the younger generation to the $14 million event that features the top eight players in the world and the richest payday.

The singles winner is guaranteed at least $4.1 million, which makes it the biggest tournament paycheck for men or women in the sport. If the WTA Finals champion goes undefeated in round-robin matches, she'll earn $4.725 million in prize money.

The 23-year-old Barty is joined in Shenzhen by 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu of Canada, who won her first Grand Slam trophy at the U.S. Open last month; 22-year-old Naomi Osaka of Japan, the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open champion; and 22-year-old Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, the last player to qualify for the field.

Only Osaka of the four has played in the WTA Finals, losing all three of her round-robin matches in her debut last year. Although she's arrived tired from winning titles in Osaka, Japan, and Beijing, she's hoping to have a better showing than in 2018.

"I think last year, the end of the year was just so hectic for me, and I didn't really remember anything," Osaka said. "Honestly, by the time I got here, I was just so tired."

Barty, Osaka and Bencic are featured in the Red group, along with two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic. Andreescu is in the Purple group with reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep of Romania, Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic and defending champion Elina Svitolina of Ukraine.

Many are suggesting one of the younger players will hoist the trophy. Serena Williams, at No. 9, didn't make the field. But Barty doesn't believe the players have an advantage over their competitors.

"In my opinion, I don't think there ever is a favorite," Barty said. "I think everyone is deserving to win that's in the draw. On any given day, anyone can be beaten. That's the beauty of sport, there are no certainties."

Andreescu seems remarkably mature and capable of handling all the notoriety that's come with her recent U.S. Open victory. This week will provide her initial test in dealing with star status at an elite event.

"I found that I deal pretty well under pressure," said Andreescu, who finished the season 48-5 and was 8-0 against top 10 opponents before losing to Osaka in Beijing this month. "Don't ask me how. I think my game just elevates to another level unconsciously, which I'm really grateful for. I think that's why I play my best against the top players. That was more when I was an underdog, so let's see how it is now."

On Sunday, Osaka will try to improve her career record to 2-0 over Kvitova, while Barty and Bencic meet for the first time. On Monday, Andreescu will face Halep for the first time.


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