The main draw for the final WTA Premier Mandatory event of the year has been released. Featuring 15 of the world’s top 16 players, the incredibly strong field promises an excellent week of tennis, with multiple storylines coming into focus as contenders seek to regain form, assert dominance and pick up valuable ranking points. Unusually, rather than automatically offering byes to the top four seeds, the 60-player draw will allow the four semi-finalists from last week’s Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo a clear passage to the second round. Consequently, Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber, Sam Stosur and Nadia Petrova will not have to play a first round match.
Unfortunately, Serena and Venus Williams have both pulled out of the tournament, citing illness and a back injury respectively. This means that Serena, the Wimbledon and US Open champion, will now find it very difficult to end the year as world number one. Not having played the event last year, she could have picked up 1000 points from a win in Beijing, edging closer to Victoria Azarenka and giving herself an excellent chance of surpassing the Belarusian at the end-of-year championships in Istanbul. Instead, she will have to hope that Azarenka either loses early or withdraws from the China Open, a distinct possibility given her pullout from Tokyo last week. The world number one cited dizziness and fatigue, suggesting she may be suffering from a virus.
Assuming Azarenka recovers in time, she will face Frenchwoman Alize Cornet in her first match. That should be highly winnable even for a below-par Azarenka, but a second round clash against either Sabine Lisicki or Anabel Medina Garrigues will be much tougher. If she can get through that match, she is seeded to face Kaia Kanepi in the last 16. Also in Azarenka’s section of the draw is sixth seeded French Open finalist Sara Errani. To book a potential quarter-final with the top seed, the Italian will have to negotiate a way past capable players such as Ursula Radwanska and Varvara Lepchenko, as well the always unpredictable Ana Ivanovic.
The second quarter of the draw is headed by Petra Kvitova. The former Wimbledon champion had a great opportunity to do well in Tokyo last week, but lost her first match to rising star Petra Martic. It was the latest disappointing loss in a season that has been peppered by poor performances from the talented Czech, and she will hope to rebound convincingly in Beijing. Unfortunately for her, however, she finds herself in a very tough section. Not only will she have to play Daniela Hantuchova in her first match; Jelena Jankovic, Andrea Petkovic and Lucie Safarova are possible obstacles to a quarter-final berth. Should Kvitova reach the last eight, she will most likely face either an in-form Sam Stosur, or Marion Bartoli, who dumped Kvitova out of the US Open last month.
In the other half of the draw, defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska should have a safe passage to the third round. There, she will have a golden opportunity to exact revenge on Roberta Vinci, her surprise conquerer at the US Open. In Tokyo, the Pole looked to have regained top form, moving forward when she had the opportunity and using her greater variety and creativity to confound opponents. There could be a rematch of the Tokyo final against Nadia Petrova if both players make it to the quarter-finals, but for that to happen, Petrova would have to dismiss either Li Na or Francesca Schiavone in the second round, and possibly twelfth seed Dominika Cibulkova in the last 16.
The final section of the draw sees Maria Sharapova clashing with Simone Halep in the first round. The Russian’s form was highly questionable in Tokyo, with ugly and laboured wins over Heather Watson and Safarova, and a messy quarter-final loss to Sam Stosur, only her second defeat against the Australian in twelve meetings. Maria Kirilenko is seeded to meet Sharapova in the third round, and if she has recovered from her recent back injury, she has an excellent chance of scoring an upset over the French Open champion. However, Sharapova very rarely plays two mediocre tournaments in a row, and will be determined to do well in China, especially as she has a chance of snatching the number one ranking before the end of the year. Among the candidates for Sharapova’s quarter-final opponent are Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber, whose clash would be one of the highlights of the third round. Kerber beat Wozniacki in Copenhagen and Stuttgart earlier this year, but the Dane has been playing much better since the tour moved to Asia, and will be hopeful of upsetting the German, who sometimes struggles to generate pace against counter-punchers.
As with last week’s event in Tokyo, the China Open is a highly demanding event for players. The entry list is of the highest standard, and there will be little recovery time between matches. The WTA elite will be looking to secure one of the biggest titles of the year, while others, such as Stosur, Li and Bartoli, will be hoping to earn enough ranking points to boost their chances of making it to Istanbul.