WTA stars ready for battle
All potential winners, Halep, Sharapova and Muguruza grab the spotlight
When Spanish darling and the No. 2 on the WTA Road to Singapore singles leaderboard, Garbine Muruguza, was introduced by emcee Andrew Krasny, schoolgirls' shrieks of "Simona!" could be heard in the background.
A few seconds later, her name was called out again, this time by a hefty-looking male fan.
Finally, Simona Halep, the one so many seemed to be waiting for, appeared.
Judging by the response the Romanian drew from the estimated 600-strong audience as she made her way up the stage, the top seed was clearly a big favourite.
Any concerns that this year's BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global would suffer from a lack of star power, after world No. 1 Serena Williams' pullout through injury, were erased at the public draw ceremony at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands skating rink yesterday.
Halep will certainly occupy much of the attention over the next few days.
She thumped Williams 6-0, 6-2 in a group match at the Singapore Indoor Stadium last year, made the final but fell to the American superstar.
The world No. 2 said she was not used to being top seed, but admitted she was excited to be back where she pulled off her greatest win 12 months ago.
"I'm really happy to be back here," said the 24-year-old.
"I have great memories from last year. It was an amazing tournament and an amazing week.
"Yeah, I'm nervous a little bit, of course, being first seed.
"But I just want to enjoy being here and fight for my chance."
The only other player who could match the reception from the crowd was, of course, Maria Sharapova.
The 28-year-old Russian is one of only two players in the field of eight who has won the WTA Finals before, achieving the feat in her tournament debut 2004.
The other player is Czech Petra Kvitova, who lifted the Billie Jean King trophy in 2011.
Dressed in a flared floral print dress, Sharapova, No. 3 on the leaderboard, looked relaxed, always smiling.
When Krasny pointed out she was at her eighth WTA Finals, the five-time Major champion and former world No. 1 joked: "Don't tell me that! It makes me feel really old."
Even though she has played just one match in the last three months because of a leg injury, Sharapova wants to end 2015 on a high.
"I'm so happy to have been able to make it this year, even though I haven't played much in the last few months," she said.
"I'm really excited to hopefully finish the year off strong."
While the local crowd were familiar with Halep and Sharapova, intrigue and excitement filled the air when Muguruza took to the stage.
The 22-year-old beauty looked stunning in a black toga dress, accompanied by dangerous-looking stilettos that accentuated her already-imposing 1.82m-tall figure.
She enjoyed her best tennis season this year.
She reached her first Grand Slam final in Wimbledon, where she was defeated by Williams, and also reached the quarter-finals at the French Open.
Now the world No. 4 - a career high - Muguruza is seen as a future No. 1.
Melissa Pine, tournament director of the WTA Finals and vice-president of WTA Asia Pacific, said Williams' absence could give this year's finalists added impetus.
"I know that the sentiment of the players is that the title is up for grabs," said Pine.
"It's anybody's title and we don't know who it's going to be.
"The players want this badly. It's a huge opportunity.
"So I think we'll see some very tight matches.
"One thing we do know for certain is there will be a new champion who will hoist the trophy."
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