Akron WTA Finals betting preview: Breakthrough year can end on a high for Badosa

Market leaders hold little appeal in the altitude of Guadalajara, but Paula Badosa and big-serving Karolina Pliskova represent serious value.

The best female tennis players of 2021 head to Guadalajara in Mexico this week for the season-ending Akron WTA Finals.

Our Andy Schooler takes a detailed look at the field and picks out his best bets.

Best Akron WTA Finals bets

Paula Badosa at 11/2

Karolina Pliskova at 7/1

When, where and how to watch the Akron WTA Finals

When: Wednesday, November 10 to Wednesday, November 17

Where: Guadalajara, Mexico

How to watch in the UK: Live on Amazon Prime

The best of the best will compete at this week's Akron WTA Finals in Mexico and the event promises much.

There is one notable absentee, however - world No. 1 Ash Barty has opted out.

Having spent such a long time away from her native Australia this year, due to the country's COVID-19 situation, it is no great surprise, although, interestingly, Barty's coach Craig Tyzzer also cited the tournament's host venue as another reason.

Ash Barty Feb21

Guadalajara is a late replacement for Shenzhen - again the pandemic forcing a change - but the Mexican city is 1,500m above sea level so there's a big altitude factor for the players to deal with. It is also an outdoor venue, rather than indoors where the tour has been based for the past month or so.

At this height, the balls fly through the air faster and while that will help the big servers, an ability to control the ball will be key.

None of this year's contenders played in Guadalajara on the main tour in 2019 or 2021. Only Bogota (2,640m) is a higher WTA venue and just one of this field has played there before - Maria Sakkari losing her only match in 2017.

Other altitude venues where performance could be relevant include Madrid (820m) and nearby Monterrey, although they are down at 540m.

With the likes of Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams having been away from the court for significant periods, there are no fewer than six debutants at this year's tournament.

The absence of both Australian Open champion Osaka and US Open queen Emma Raducanu mean two of this year's Grand Slam champions are missing from the field.

Those in attendance have been split into two round-robin groups of four. The top two in each will progress to the semi-finals.

Let's take a look at the contenders…

Group 1 (Chichen Itza) 

ATP Finals Group 1

Aryna Sabalenka

Race position: 2nd

2021 win-loss record: 44-16 (2 titles - Abu Dhabi, Madrid)

2021 win-loss record vs top 10: 3-3

WTA Finals record: Debut

Recent form: QF Moscow (lost to Alexandrova), SF US Open (lost to Fernandez), L32 Cincinnati (lost to Badosa), SF Montreal (lost to Pliskova), L32 Olympics (lost to Vekic)

Record vs group opponents:

vs Sakkari - overall: 4-1; outdoor hard: 4-1; 2021: 1-0

vs Swiatek - overall: 0-0; outdoor hard: 0-0; 2021: 0-0

vs Badosa - overall: 0-1; outdoor hard: 0-1; 2021: 0-1

In a bid to get used to the unusual conditions, the title favourite was the first to arrive in Guadalajara. She did win at altitude in Madrid (on clay) earlier in the year but the Belarusian's hard-hitting game doesn't appear best suited to the thin air. Her downfall is often too many unforced errors and it's not difficult to see those coming in these conditions.

In addition, Sabalenka hasn't played much of late. She missed Indian Wells having contracted COVID-19 and when appearing in Moscow last time out admitted: "I'm not in my best shape but I know that I need matches." Unfortunately for her, she managed only two that week so could well be undercooked. Looks a flaky favourite.

Maria Sakkari

Race position: 5th

2021 win-loss record: 36-18 (0 titles)

2021 win-loss record vs top 10: 7-4

WTA Finals record: Debut

Recent form: SF Moscow (lost to Alexandrova), L64 Indian Wells (lost to Golubic), RU Ostrava (lost to Kontaveit), SF US Open (lost to Raducanu), L64 Cincinnati (lost to Kerber), L16 Montreal (lost to Azarenka), L16 Olympics (lost to Svitolina)

Record vs group opponents:

vs Sabalenka - overall: 1-4; outdoor hard: 1-4; 2021: 0-1

vs Swiatek - overall: 2-0; outdoor hard: 0-0; 2021: 2-0

vs Badosa - overall: 0-0; outdoor hard: 0-0; 2021: 0-0

Sakkari made two Grand Slam semi-finals in 2021 but has failed to win a title of any kind. One notable aspect of her season is her strong record against top-10 players - she has won seven of 11 such matches this year and that bodes well for the week ahead. That said, Sakkari has no record of note at altitude and was last seen retiring in Moscow following a dizzy turn. A poor record against Sabalenka is another concern. Will look to make use of a strong serve but there appear more likely winners in this field.

Iga Swiatek

Race position: 6th

2021 win-loss record: 35-13 (2 titles - Adelaide, Rome)

2021 win-loss record vs top 10: 2-2

WTA Finals record: Debut

Recent form: L16 Indian Wells (lost to Ostapenko), SF Ostrava (lost to Sakkari), L16 US Open (lost to Bencic), L32 Cincinnati (lost to Jabeur), L32 Olympics (lost to Badosa)

Record vs group opponents:

vs Sabalenka - overall: 0-0; outdoor hard: 0-0; 2021: 0-0

vs Sakkari - overall: 0-2; outdoor hard: 0-0; 2021: 0-2

vs Badosa - overall: 0-1; outdoor hard: 0-1; 2021: 0-1

The Pole has arguably the worst form heading into this tournament. Last year's French Open champion has struggled since coming off the clay. She's not beaten a top-15 player since Rome in May and arrives here having not played in a month. Swiatek is yet to beat any of her group opponents and lost to Badosa at the Olympics earlier this year. It's hard to see her featuring at the business end.

Paula Badosa

Race position: 8th

2021 win-loss record: 41-15 (2 titles - Belgrade, Indian Wells)

2021 win-loss record vs top 10: 4-3

WTA Finals record: Debut

Recent form: W Indian Wells (beat Azarenka), L16 Ostrava (lost to Kontaveit), L64 US Open (lost to Gracheva), QF Cincinnati (lost to Pliskova), L32 Montreal (lost to Marino), QF Olympics (lost to Vondrousova)

Record vs group opponents:

vs Sabalenka - overall: 1-0; outdoor hard: 1-0; 2021: 1-0

vs Sakkari - overall: 0-0; outdoor hard: 0-0; 2021: 0-0

vs Swiatek - overall: 1-0; outdoor hard: 1-0; 2021: 1-0

It's been a huge breakthrough year for Badosa and she looks to have a good chance of ending it on a high. She may not have played for a month but her last outing did see her win the biggest title of her career in Indian Wells.

With a decent serve and excellent groundstrokes, she's very much become a player for all conditions and I doubt the altitude will faze her too much. To back that up, Badosa did make the semis up in Madrid earlier this year. Yet to lose to any of her group opponents, the Spaniard looks more than capable of reaching the knockout stages and from there she'd have a decent chance.

Group 2 (Teotihuacan)

ATP finals Group 1

Barbora Krejcikova

Race position: 3rd

2021 win-loss record: 45-16 (3 titles - French Open, Strasbourg, Prague)

2021 win-loss record vs top 10: 4-4

WTA Finals record: Debut

Recent form: Gp (w/CZE) BJK Cup Finals, L16 Indian Wells (lost to Badosa), QF US Open (lost to Sabalenka), QF Cincinnati (lost to Barty), L16 Olympics (lost to Bencic)

Record vs group opponents:

vs Pliskova - overall: 0-2; outdoor hard: 0-0; 2021: 0-0

vs Muguruza - overall: 2-1; outdoor hard: 2-1; 2021: 2-1

vs Kontaveit - overall: 0-0; outdoor hard: 0-0; 2021: 0-0

Second seed Krejcikova is the only player arriving here from the Billie Jean King Cup Finals which were played indoors in Prague last week. The Czech lost both of her singles matches at that event as the hosts failed to make it out of their group and there were hints she was carrying an injury. Given she's also playing doubles here, the workload may catch up with Krejcikova.

She's not one of the biggest hitters in the field but her ability to keep the ball in court may prove important in these conditions. It certainly worked wonders at the French Open where she emerged as the surprise champion. Should not be discounted but clouds of doubt surround her heading in.

Karolina Pliskova

Race position: 4th

2021 win-loss record: 35-18 (0 titles)

2021 win-loss record vs top 10: 2-2

WTA Finals record: 7-8 (19 SF, 18 SF, 17 SF, 16 Gp)

Recent form: L32 Indian Wells (lost to Haddad Maia), QF US Open (lost to Sakkari), SF Cincinnati (lost to Teichmann), RU Montreal (lost to Giorgi), L16 Olympics (lost to Giorgi)

Record vs group opponents:

vs Krejcikova - overall: 2-0; outdoor hard: 0-0; 2021: 0-0

vs Muguruza - overall: 8-2; outdoor hard: 5-1; 2021: 0-0

vs Kontaveit - overall: 3-0; outdoor hard: 2-0; 2021: 0-0

There's plenty to like about Pliskova's chances this week. The runner-up at Wimbledon has continued to win plenty of matches since, impressing on the North American hardcourts without managing to claim a title. Her big serve will win her plenty of free points at this altitude and, as a former Madrid semi-finalist, she's shown she can deal with balls that fly.

Pliskova holds an eye-catching 13-2 career record against her three group foes, albeit none of those victories has come this year, while she also has tournament experience behind her having made the semis at the last three WTA Finals. Knowing how to back up wins against top-class opponents could work in her favour given the number of first-timers in this field.

Garbine Muguruza

Race position: 7th

2021 win-loss record: 38-16 (2 titles - Dubai, Chicago)

2021 win-loss record vs top 10: 3-7

Tournament record: 5-5 (17 Gp, 16 Gp, 15 SF)

Recent form: QF Moscow (lost to Kontaveit), L64 Indian Wells (lost to Tomljanovic), W Chicago (beat Jabeur), L16 US Open (lost to Krejcikova), L16 Cincinnati (lost to Krejcikova), L32 Montreal (lost to Siniakova), QF Olympics (lost to Rybakina)

Record vs group opponents:

vs Krejcikova - overall: 1-2; outdoor hard: 1-2; 2021: 1-2

vs Pliskova - overall: 2-8; outdoor hard: 1-5; 2021: 0-0

vs Kontaveit - overall: 2-2; outdoor hard: 1-0; 2021: 0-1

Former Wimbledon champion Muguruza enjoyed a great start to 2021 but, a title in Chicago aside, she's rather tailed off as the year has worn on. A poor record against the elite is also a concern for potential backers - she lost 6-1, 6-1 to group rival Kontaveit in Moscow recently.

The Spaniard will look to draw on her successful record in Mexico - she won the Monterrey event in both 2019 and 2018. The altitude there is considerably lower but such results still carry relevance. However, in a strong pool, Muguruza looks up against it.

Anett Kontaveit

Race position: 9th

2021 win-loss record: 45-15 (4 titles - Cleveland, Ostrava, Moscow, Cluj-Napoca)

2021 win-loss record vs top 10: 4-5

WTA Finals record: Debut

Recent form: W Cluj-Napoca (beat Halep), W Moscow (beat Alexandrova), QF Indian Wells (lost to Jabeur), L32 Chicago (lost to Hontama), W Ostrava (beat Sakkari), L32 US Open (lost to Swiatek), W Cleveland (beat Begu), L64 Cincinnati (lost to Jabeur), L64 Montreal (lost to Pegula), L64 Olympics (lost to Sakkari)

Record vs group opponents:

vs Krejcikova - overall: 0-0; outdoor hard: 0-0; 2021: 0-0

vs Pliskova - overall: 0-3; outdoor hard: 0-2; 2021: 0-0

vs Muguruza - overall: 2-2; outdoor hard: 0-1; 2021: 1-0

Kontaveit is only here due to Barty's withdrawal but is regarded as the form horse having finished the regular season with a superb run of four titles in three months, winning 26 of her last 28 matches. No one in the field has won more matches or more titles in 2021.

The question here is whether she can keep that run going against opponents of this calibre. Both of her losses in that run came against top-20 foes, while across the year she actually holds a losing record against the top 10.

The Estonian was also the only player here who failed to make it past the third round at any of the Grand Slams so there may be enough evidence to put people off backing her now she's shortened into second favouritism.

Conclusion for the Akron WTA Finals

Paula Badosa Indian Wells Oct21

I don't fancy either of the market leaders - these conditions look conducive to the famous Sabalenka unforced errors, while Kontaveit is too short now. Her recent run has certainly been impressive but is it as impressive enough to make her the second favourite here? Not for me.

I'll instead take one from each group in a bid to find the champion, starting with Paula Badosa at 11/2.

Confidence will be high after her career-best result at Indian Wells and she's shown she is a player capable of adapting to all court conditions. Unbeaten against her group opponents, the Spaniard should go well in Guadalajara.

In the opposing pool, Karolina Pliskova looks to have been under-rated.

She's won 20 of her last 26 matches and has a devastating serve which will be well suited to the Mexican altitude.

Throw in dominant records against her group opponents and it's not hard to see her progressing to the last four for the fourth consecutive occasion at the WTA Finals.

A price of 7/1 looks more than fair.

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