WTA Finals: Iga looks to end year with a bang

 - Reem Abulleil

World No.1 the heavy favourite at season-closing championships in Texas

Iga Swiatek US Open 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

The 50th staging of the WTA Finals kicks off in Fort Worth, Texas on Monday, marking the championships' return to the United States for the first time since 2005.

Here are some storylines to look out for as the tour's top eight women get ready to for the action at Dickies Arena.

Catch her if you can

World No.1 Iga Swiatek has dominated the big stage in 2022, with six of her eight titles amassed this season coming at the Grand Slams or the WTA 1000 level.

The 21-year-old Pole has a chance to conclude her stunning campaign with a bang, and is the undisputed favourite for the title in Fort Worth.

Swiatek headlines the Tracy Austin Group that also includes Coco Gauff, Caroline Garcia and Daria Kasatkina.

The reigning Roland-Garros and US Open champion leads the tour with 64 match-wins this season and owns a combined 9-2 win-loss record against her fellow group members.

Swiatek, making her second consecutive WTA Finals appearance, opens against Kasatkina on Tuesday.

Four debutantes

Half the field are contesting the WTA Finals for the first time: Ons Jabeur, Jessica Pegula, Coco Gauff and Daria Kasatkina.

The 2022 edition of the tournament is guaranteed to crown a new WTA Finals champion.

"Times change. I feel like even the players that are playing here for the first time, they were pretty consistent the last few years. You can take Jess, Coco, me, we always try to qualify. We were maybe 13, 12 in the Race before," said world No.2 Jabeur, who missed out on qualifying for the WTA Finals last year by just one ranking spot.

"I feel like nobody saw the changes coming because of the COVID and the ranking, so I feel like the change happened, like, way before. But since the rankings stopped for a while, people didn't see it.

"But, yeah, I feel like those players are here. They were the players consistent for a few years already."

Doubling up

American duo Pegula and Gauff are the first Americans to feature at the WTA Finals in both singles and doubles since Serena and Venus Williams in 2009.

Partners on the doubles court, Pegula and Gauff have enjoyed tremendous success this season, together and apart.

In singles, they became the first American pair to be ranked simultaneously in the top four since the Williams sisters in 2010.

In doubles, they reached the Roland-Garros final as a team and won three titles, in Doha, Toronto and San Diego. Gauff even reached the No.1 ranking in doubles earlier this season.

"I would say she has really good energy," the 28-year-old Pegula said of the teenaged Gauff.

"A lot of first-pumping, jumping around. Her athleticism and the youthfulness about her. She's very giggly. She laughs a lot. She's always kind of messing around.

"I think just having that kind of energy, especially when we're playing doubles, has kind of taught me to kind of do that more in my singles game since I'm pretty laid back, but I think at times I've picked up little things from that. So, yeah, I don't know, she keeps me young," added Pegula with a laugh.

Pegula is coming off the biggest title triumph of her career, having lifted the WTA 1000 trophy in Guadalajara last week.

Jessica Pegula, Coco Gauff, Roland Garros 2022, doubles quarter-finals© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Historic appearance for Jabeur

Tunisian Jabeur is the first Arab or North African woman to qualify for the WTA Finals and she's hoping to cap a dream season with a strong showing in Texas.

The 28-year-old was runner-up at both Wimbledon and the US Open and comes into the season finale feeling well-prepared after skipping San Diego and Guadalajara to train properly for her historic WTA Finals debut.

Jabeur headlines the Nancy Richey Group, which includes Pegula, Aryna Sabalenka and Maria Sakkari.

Garcia finds her way back to Finals

Five years after making her WTA Finals singles debut, Frenchwoman Garcia is back in the fold thanks to an impressive stretch of results within the last five months.

She was ranked as low as 77 in the world in June and is now up to No.6.

The oldest player in the singles field in Fort Worth this week, the 29-year-old Garcia is looking to become just the second ever Frenchwoman to win the WTA Finals and first since Amelie Mauresmo in 2005.

She opens her campaign in Texas against Gauff on Tuesday.

Another chance for Sabalenka, Sakkari

Sabalenka joked during the draw ceremony on Friday that she was the "queen of the double faults" this season and that it was a "miracle" she qualified for the WTA Finals. She is not wrong.

The world No.7 struck a whopping 398 doubles faults through 50 matches in 2022, averaging eight double faults per match.

She leads the tour in double faults, and has struck 109 more than the player who is second on that list, Ekaterina Alexandrova.

Despite her serving woes, Sabalenka clawed her way into the WTA Finals, thanks to semi-final showings in Cincinnati and the US Open late summer.

Sabalenka is contesting the season-closing championships for the second straight year and will be hoping to make it through the group stage for the first time.

Greece's Sakkari is also playing the tournament for the second time, having made the semis on her debut last year.

Sakkari was the last player to secure her spot in Fort Worth and is fresh off a runner-up finish in Guadalajara last week.

"I think everyone is very excited to be here because it's the elite of female tennis. It's just a great reward for the good season that we've been having," said Sakkari. "Personally I'm very excited that a very challenging season is going to finish in a very good way no matter how it goes here. It's just a reward that I'm in this tournament."