At the Net: Ready for Istanbul

Philadelphia, PA ( - The season-ending WTA Championships are on tap for next week in Istanbul, where the world's top-eight women, with the exception of Maria Sharapova, will battle for bragging rights ... and a lot of money.

The world No. 3, former No. 1 and French Open runner-up Sharapova will have to wait until next year due to a right shoulder injury, which also forced her to miss the U.S. Open.

For the second year in a row, eight players will represent eight different countries at the lucrative extravaganza, as world No. 1 Serena Williams (United States), Australian Open champion, U.S. Open runner-up and 2011 Istanbul finalist Victoria Azarenka (Belarus), Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland), Aussie Open runner-up Li Na (China), Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic), Sara Errani (Italy), Jelena Jankovic (Serbia) and Angelique Kerber (Germany) will be on hand in Turkey, which hosts the event for the last time.

A record-setting $6 million in prize money will be available at the most prestigious event on the WTA calendar outside the Grand Slams.

"If Istanbul's debut staging of the Championships was stunning, last year's was even better, and I have no doubt the best will be saved for last," said WTA chairman and CEO Stacey Allaster. "This has truly been a People's Championships and our players are ready to show their best tennis in front of the amazing Turkish fans for the third and final time."

The elite all-star tournament will move to Singapore for five years, starting next year.

Note: The U.S. hasn't hosted the Championships since 2005 (Los Angeles), this after hosting 33 of the first 34 events, including 22 straight at New York City's Madison Square Garden from 1979-2000.

The three-time titlist Serena will head to Istanbul as the defending champ. The American great/reigning U.S. and French Open queen beat the 2004 Championships victor Sharapova, 6-4, 6-3, in last year's marquee finale.

"The support we received from the fans last year was overwhelming and it's going to be a very special feeling returning to Turkey and playing in that incredible atmosphere again," Serena said.

Unfortunately, there won't be any year-end No. 1 drama next week as Serena has already clinched that coveted perch for the third time in her career.

The latest Championships field will feature only two former winners, Serena and the always-dangerous 2011 titlist Kvitova. Serena will try to give the U.S. its first back-to-back Championships victor since Czech-born Martina Navratilova back in 1986. The last back-to-back American-born champ was Chris Evert 40 years ago.

Wimbledon winner Marion Bartoli, of course, will not play next week as she retired from the tour back in August.

Did You Know?: Istanbul is the only city in the world situated on two continents.

- Navratilova holds the record with eight singles and 12 doubles titles at the Championships.

- Navratilova also holds the record with six runner-up finishes, while Evert lost in four such finals.

- The four-time champion Evert captured the first-ever WTA Championships title in Boca Raton in 1972, beating Aussie Kerry Melville Reid in the final.

- The U.S. leads all nations with 15 singles titles at the Championships, while Germany is next with six, five of which came from Steffi Graf, who trails only Navratilova for Championships supremacy.

- Six women have captured the Championships at least three times -- Navratilova (8), Graf (5) Evert (4), Serena (3), Monica Seles (3) and Kim Clijsters (3).

The 2013 WTA Championships will commence Tuesday in Turkey.