A brand new tournament has been added to the WTA calendar for 2013, the Shenzhen Longgang Gemdale Open. Its position in the first week of the season automatically guarantees it attention as one of the Australian Open warm-up events, and even if the majority of the top ten have already made their way down under, Shenzhen is still set to provide a week of intriguing and exciting tennis.
Unsurprisingly, Chinese number one Li Na heads the 32-player draw. Li is a major celebrity in her home country, and is aiming to recapture the form that led her to the Australian Open final in 2011. With new coach Carlos Rodriguez, who guided Justine Henin to glory in the mid-2000s, Li appears to have a renewed motivation for her sport, and would like nothing more than to win her first title of 2013 in front of the local fans. She should have little difficulty overcoming world number 77 Mandy Minella in her opening match, and will be equally favoured to defeat either Nina Bratchikova or Julie Cohen in the second round. Li’s likely quarter-final opponent will be the dangerous but inconsistent Bojana Jovanovski, who she has beaten before.
Su-Wei Hsieh, the fourth seed, is the highest-ranked player in the second section of the Shenzhen draw. The Taipei player had a breakthrough 2012, winning two WTA titles and climbing to a career high of 25 in the world. That said, Hsieh does not exactly have a game that blows other players off court, and she could well fall to the experienced Hungarian Melinda Czink in the first round. Sixth seed Peng Shuai is another Chinese player hoping for an upturn in fortunes at the beginning of 2013. Ranked as high as 14 in summer 2011, Peng performed erratically over the last year, and now languishes at 40. Nevertheless, the 26 year-old has enjoyed a lot of success on fast courts in her career, and reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon last June.
British fans will take a keen interest in Laura Robson’s performance in Shenzhen. Although she narrowly failed to capture her first WTA title in 2012, the charismatic 18-year-old won many hearts with spirited performances at the Olympics and the US Open. As the new season beckons, many anticipate that the powerful left-hander will continue to improve, and she has an excellent opportunity to make a deep run this week. Assuming both players live up to their seedings, Robson will face Jelena Jankovic in the quarter-finals, whose career trajectory seems to be the polar opposite of the Brit’s. Ranked number one in the world just a few years ago, and a serious contender for Grand Slam titles, the Serb has suffered a major slump in recent times, damaging her cause further by overplaying. Has she recuperated enough during the off-season to start afresh and begin a new ascent of the rankings, or does she still lack the confidence to play the game that once brought her so much success?
The final quarter features a player who was almost as busy as Jankovic in 2012, Marion Bartoli. The eccentric Frenchwoman has been a top 15 mainstay for several years now, and sometimes delivers stunning performances, but she usually fails to find her way past more than one higher-ranked player in a given tournament. In her section of the Shenzhen draw are Klara Zakopalova, Shahar Peer and Andrea Hlavackova, each capable of causing an upset. Zakopalova gave many top players a run for their money last year, while Peer has beaten Bartoli seven times in ten meetings. However, Bartoli often performs well at the beginning of the season, and if she is focused and playing consistently, has an excellent chance of reaching the semi-finals.
Li def. Peng
Robson def. Bartoli
Li def. Robson