SINGAPORE – Madison Keys is the first American other than Serena and Venus Williams to earn a berth at the year-end WTA Finals in more than a decade.
The last American outside of a Williams at the finals was Lindsay Davenport, a former coach to Keys, in 2005.
Keys’ debut in the WTA Finals, starting on Sunday, came courtesy of her winning a second career title in Birmingham, England, and reaching finals at Rome and Montreal.
She also played in the Olympic semifinals, losing to Petra Kvitova for the bronze medal.
“Being here is a huge accomplishment for me,” Keys said. “I definitely want to … prove that I’ve worked really hard to get here, and I’m here for a reason.”
Keys, who climbed into the top-10 rankings at No. 7 this month, is also the first American to debut in the top 10 since Serena Williams in 1999.
“That (fact) was definitely really surprising,” Keys said. “There have been a lot of great American players who I thought had made it, but obviously not.”
Second-ranked Serena Williams pulled out of the finals for the second consecutive year. She won the title in 2014, the first year the event moved to Singapore. Williams hasn’t played since a U.S. Open semifinal loss to Karolina Pliskova, and cited a persistent right shoulder injury.
Keys will face Simona Halep in her first of three round-robin matches on Sunday. They are in the Red Group along with world No. 1 Angelique Kerber and Dominika Cibulkova.
The White Group consists of defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska, French Open champion Garbine Muguruza, U.S. Open finalist Pliskova, and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Kuznetsova, a two-time Grand Slam singles winner, won the Kremlin Cup in Moscow on Saturday to take the last spot, and qualify for her first finals since 2009.
Kerber overtook Williams for the No. 1 ranking after she won the U.S. Open last month, her second career Grand Slam title. In January, Kerber upset Williams in the Australian Open final.
Kerber, the first German woman since Steffi Graf to attain the top ranking, also won the Olympic silver medal in Rio.
“As a player, I change a lot,” Kerber said of the season. “I have much more confidence right now. I know how to play the big tournaments. Also, mentally, how to win really tough matches in tough situations or like playing finals in big tournaments, big stages.”
She didn’t advance from the round-robin in three previous WTA Finals.
Radwanska arrived in Singapore to defend her title after winning three tournaments this year – Shenzhen, New Haven, and Beijing.
“There is always a little bit more pressure when you really have to defend a big title, a lot of points,” Radwanska said. “But on the other hand, when you’re top five, top 10, you are pretty much defending (points) every week.”
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