Race to Singapore heats up as top players descend on Wuhan Open - Tournament preview

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Kvitova is a two-time champion in Wuhan.

The fifth edition of the Wuhan Open kicked off on Sunday with lots at stake at the WTA Premier 5 event.

Nine of the world’s top 10 are in action in the capital of the Hubei province this week with Naomi Osaka being the only exception. The Japanese star followed up her stunning title victory at the US Open with a run to the Tokyo final, which she ended up losing to Karolina Pliskova on Sunday. She pulled out of Wuhan citing a viral illness.

Here are five main talking points surrounding this year’s Wuhan Open.

SLINGING FOR SINGAPORE

Besides the generous $2,746,000 prize pot on the table, there are 900 points on the line for the champion in Wuhan this week which would make a huge difference in the Race to Singapore standings.

Only Simona Halep and Angelique Kerber have locked down their spots for the season-ending championships so far, which means Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki, Elina Svitolina, and Kiki Bertens will all be looking to cement their status in the top-eight in the Race with strong performances in Wuhan this week (Sloane Stephens already lost on Sunday to Anett Kontaveit).

The players currently ranked 9 to 16 in the Race could all close in on Bertens, who is occupying the No. 8 spot at the moment. So a lot of movement can occur here at the Optics Valley International Tennis Centre and the players are well aware of it.

“I still didn’t qualify for Singapore. For me that’s the goal. Obviously it’s a huge motivation for me,” Svitolina was quick to point out on when discussing the challenges of staying motivated during this stretch of the season.

If Caroline Garcia defends her Wuhan title, she could potentially move up from 17 to No. 9 in the Race and put herself in contention for Singapore.

Others from the chasing pack in action this week include Pliskova, Daria Kasatkina, Madison Keys, Julia Goerges – who won her first round on Sunday against Marketa Vondrousova – and Garbine Muguruza.

HALEP’S CHANCE TO BOUNCE BACK

Even though she’s already confirmed for Singapore, Wuhan presents an opportunity for Halep to rebound from a disappointing first-round exit at the US Open last month, where she was sent packing by Estonian Kaia Kanepi. The world No. 1 has a bye in the first round and will open her Wuhan campaign against either Dominika Cibulkova or lucky loser Monica Niculescu.

SVITOLINA’S NEW SET-UP

Admittedly disappointed by her results at the majors this season, Svitolina is also in need of a positive result to get her back on track. The Ukrainian world No. 6, who is still in search of a maiden Grand Slam semi-final, has parted ways with her coach Thierry Ascione and has hired Nick Saviano as his replacement. Andy Bettles, who was acting as an assistant coach in her previous set-up remains part of the team. Saviano has lots of experience coaching on the WTA tour and has worked with the likes of Eugenie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens in the past.

“He’s here with me. I’ve been training in Miami for past two weeks after US Open. For me, it was something new. Yeah, we are trying to work till the end of the year,” said Svitolina of Saviano. “I need a fresh look. I think Nick is that kind of person that can bring the experience.”

TRICKY OPENERS

There are some nail-biting first rounds taking place in Wuhan, and possible tantalising second rounds as well.

Muguruza takes on her Wimbledon conqueror Alison van Uytvanck, Johanna Konta faces last year’s runner-up Ashleigh Barty, Seoul champion opens against Belinda Bencic, while Jelena Ostapenko plays Daria Gavrilova.

Halep could potentially start against Cibulkova and Kerber might begin against Keys.

PETRA’S HAPPY HUNTING GROUND

Kvitova has won two of the four editions of the Wuhan Open so far in her career (2014, 2016) and the Czech is hoping to make it a triple this week.

She has claimed five titles already this season but is 9-5 win-loss since lifting the trophy in Birmingham last June. Kvitova’s success in the Far East doesn’t stop at Wuhan. She also won Zhuhai (2016) and Tokyo (2013) in the past, and made finals in Beijing (2013) and the season-ending Championships in Singapore (2015).

“Actually from the first tournament we played here, I just felt great here. Obviously I like to play in Asia, in China. It’s tough to explain why,” said Kvitova on Sunday.

“I know it’s always end of the season and everybody is tired, everybody has something. But I’m always kind of enjoying the time here. Probably that’s why it’s seeing on the results, as well.”

She says she was sick after the US Open but feels ready to compete.

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