Tennis

5 things to know about WTA championships

The WTA Championships bring together the top eight players in the world and begin with round-robin play Tuesday in Istanbul.

The top two finishers from each group advance to the semifinals. Third-ranked Maria Sharapova has pulled out because of a shoulder injury and Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli has retired. Here are the 5 things to know about the tournament, which moves to Singapore for the next five years:

THE GROUPS

The eight players are divided into two groups. The Red Group consists of Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Angelique Kerber. The White Group has Victoria Azarenka, Li Na, Sara Errani and Jelena Jankovic.

Azarenka will open the tournament against Errani, while Williams will play Kerber in the middle match. Radwanska and Kvitova complete Tuesday*s schedule.

The round-robin format means that a loss doesn't necessarily mean elimination.

"Both of the groups are very tough and I don't think you can choose anyone who you think is weaker," said Kvitova, who won the tournament in 2011. "This means that it's going to be a big fight every day, every match."

SERENA'S YEAR

Top-ranked Serena Williams is the heavy favorite going into the last major event of the season.

The American is the defending champion and is coming off her best season with 10 titles, although she is the oldest in the field at 32.

Williams, making her eighth appearance in the event, is looking to become the first player to successfully defend the title since Justine Henin in 2007. If she achieves the feat, she would equal Chris Evert for third most WTA Championships with her fourth.

Henin was also the last to win 10 titles in a season, in 2007.

Williams has clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking for the third time in her career after 2002 and 2009. She won the French Open and U.S. Open this season and has 17 Grand Slam titles. She regained the No. 1 ranking in February when she beat Petra Kvitova in Doha. Kvitova is in Williams' group in Istanbul.

"She just does everything well," Williams said of Kvitova. "She's also a lefty, which I think for sure helps her. It's always a little tricky. But it will be a good match."

Williams was asked if she could equal Margaret Court Smith's 24 Grand Slam titles.

"That would be amazing. I'm less than 10 away, so that's a start, but even if I was at 23 Grand Slams, it would be very hard with so many wonderful players, especially now," Williams said. "There are so many great new players coming up. Everyone is so young, everyone is so hungry, everyone wants to be the next No. 1."

THE STREAK

The longest championships winning streak was compiled by Martina Navratilova, who won 21 straight matches in winning five titles between 1983 and 1986 and reaching the quarterfinals in 1987.

The second-longest win streaks in tournament history were held by Chris Evert and Monica Seles, who each won 12 matches in a row.

Serena Williams enters this year's tournament with a 10-match winning streak at the event, having won titles in 2009 and 2012 and not having competed in 2010 and 2011. She also won the event in 2001.

AZARENKA'S THREAT

If anyone can challenge Williams for the title, it should be second-ranked Victoria Azarenka.

Azarenka is the only other Grand Slam champion this season in the event, having won the Australian Open.

Williams has lost twice to Azarenka this year: in Doha in February, the day after having regained the top ranking from her rival, and in Cincinnati in August after leading for most of the match.

But Williams then defeated Azarenka to win the U.S. Open in the longest final in 30 years.

Azarenka, however, has been struggling recently, losing in the second round in Tokyo and in the first round in Beijing, where she served 15 double-faults.

Azarenka said her rivalry with Williams is becoming "more and more interesting."

"We had a lot of very good matches, very good battles, and it's great," Azarenka said. "I'm honored to be a part of that."

JANKOVIC'S COMEBACK

Jelena Jankovic, a former No. 1, is back in the top 10 for the first time since 2010 and will be playing her fifth WTA Championships.

She credits her brother Marko for helping her get there.

"I got injured in Australia, tore my muscle, and couldn't train for three weeks. After that, I called my brother and I started working with him, and he told me from the beginning that his goal is to bring me back to top 10 and to bring me back to the top," Jankovic said in Istanbul.

"I almost fell out of top 30, and coming back to the top 10, top eight, it's a great achievement even though I was No. 1 in the world in the past, but still, coming a long ways is great. I want to get back to top five. That's my next goal."

Jankovic said that at 28, she did not feel old.

"People like Serena, at 32, she's playing her best tennis and having the best year of her career, and I think that inspires all of us," Jankovic said.

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