Eight players, eight questions with Martina Navratilova

Eight players, eight questions with Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova was talking about the variety in Daria Kasatkina’s game when a thought occurred to her. It took only a split-second for the 18-time major singles champion to pivot to the larger topic.

“What we get with all of them is such a contrast,” Navratilova said of the diverse WTA Finals field. “There really are no two players that are alike. It’s great in this day and age. It used to be more of the same old, same old — and now there’s much more variety, in every way.

WTA Finals: Monday’s order of play

3 p.m.: Krejcikova/Siniakova vs. Krawczyk/Schuurs
Not before 5 p.m.: Pegula vs. Sakkari
Not before 7 pm: Jabeur vs. Sabalenka
Followed by: Gauff/Pegula vs. Xu/Yang

“Different countries, personalities, styles — it will be nice for the people to get behind a particular player. And I think [the support] is going to be spread out, making it a fun event for everybody.”

Once again, Navratilova will be one of the ambassadors, along with Chris Evert, at this year-end event, held at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth starting Monday.

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Not surprisingly, Navratilova has a few thoughts. Here are eight questions we have for the eight players headed to Fort Worth:

1. Iga Swiatek: She won eight titles — Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart, Rome, Roland Garros, the US Open and San Diego. Can she finish off one of the great seasons in WTA history?

Navratilova: She won two of the four majors, and the rest of it is just mind-blowing. When I had a great year, at the year-end championships, you relaxed. It’s ‘I had a great year, I don’t have to prove anything.’ She’s had a couple of weeks off. There’s absolutely no pressure on her, so she could play probably the most free tennis of anybody there.

Behind the scenes: WTA Finals gala

2. Ons Jabeur: After she advanced to back-to-back major finals, what do you expect from No.2 seed?

Navratilova: She’ll be hungry. Losing those two finals — it sucks losing in the final of a major. You have to stay on the court for that extra 15 minutes, when you just want to get to the locker room and have a beer. She may be the hungriest of all of them. It’s a big event and could be a springboard for next year. She might be the one with the most to prove. It’s funny, No.1 and No.2 — one has nothing to prove and the other one might be the hungriest.

3. Jessica Pegula: How do you see her chances after winning the title in Guadalajara?

Navratilova: She played great last week, obviously. She’s grown so much. [Coach] David [Witt] has been working with her, and everything’s gotten better. She was a passive player and now she’s not your basic baseliner at all. She’s adept at the net — I think doubles has helped her. And she’s totally a student of the game. You can see her brain working. She’s been steady mentally; she doesn’t get too upset one way or another. She’s been consistent in every way. And she’s added the firepower when the opportunity’s there.

4. Coco Gauff: What advantage will the 18-year-old player have?

Navratilova: Yeah, she’s been doing it one step at a time. Overall, she would be happy with where she is. There is still some technical stuff that she needs to deal with, but it’s getting better — all of it is getting better all the time. And the coverage of the court — she and Swiatek are the fastest players out there. They make people hit more balls than anyone else. I think she’s constructing points better, hitting the right shots more often, understanding the geometry of the court. It’s been fun to watch her progress. You can see she wants it so badly. She’s open to learning and evolving.

5. Maria Sakkari: She has been up and down all year and was the last one to qualify a week ago. How much does her run to the Guadalajara 1000 final help her?

Navratilova: She came through under pressure, she had to win those matches to get outright into the tournament. So kudos for that. She’s had some opportunities years past and hasn’t played her best under pressure. And she did it last week, when it was all or nothing. She should be pretty happy to have gotten through. She’ll be happy to be there, ready to go. With her game, the lower the bounce, the better for her. I like the way she conducts herself on the court — she’s so fiery. Just needs to relax a little bit more.

6. Caroline Garcia: She won three titles — Bad Homburg, Warsaw and the Cincinnati 1000. What was the difference this year?

Navratilova: Her father took a step back and with a new coach [Bertrand Perret], she is playing smarter tennis. And because she has clarity, a clearer game plan, she now has more conviction on her shots, and that’s made all the difference. She shot up [in the rankings] and then she went back down and it’s nice she’s bounced back. She is one of the best athletes out there. She should be doing well, really flying high.

7. Aryna Sabalenka: She’s had only one win since reaching the US Open semifinals. Are we overlooking her chances?

Navratilova: In the bigger occasions, she hasn’t had that breakthrough. Which is funny because you would think it’s the other way around — that she would have won [a major] and then maybe had some worse results. She’s got nothing to lose, maybe the surface would favor her if it’s bouncing a little higher, so she can smack it. We’ll see. She’s a bit of a wildcard.

8. Daria Kasatkina: She who won 40 matches this year, two titles and sits is at a career high No.8. How dangerous of a floater is she?

Navratilova: She’s fluctuated with her game, too. You’d expect more consistency in her results considering the way she plays. She seems to be happy in her private life. Maybe that’s part of why she’s playing better, because it frees you up. She’s got a nice feel for the game. She’s an unknown factor, kind of sneaks through you, rather than bowls you over like some other players.

Bonus: Who wins the whole thing?

Navratilova: You have to go with Swiatek. How can you go against her? She would probably adapt the best to whatever the speed of the court is going to be. She’s got pretty compact strokes, even though she puts a lot of topspin on that forehand. It’s not a massive swing, so she can deal with the faster court. And growing up in Poland, she probably would have practiced a lot on faster courts so she can adapt to that. If it’s slow, great, the topspin will pay off for her. I can’t go against her because she’s never going to beat herself.

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