All four former Wuhan Open champions are in the field for the 2019 edition – but the Premier-5 event still looks to be a new winner.
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WTA Tours top players gather for the final season's Premier-5 event at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, with Ashleigh Barty, Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina leading the field.
All four former winners of the Wuhan Open, including Venus Williams, two-time winner Petra Kvitova and defending champion Aryna Sabalenka, are also in the tense field, as are Shenzhen hopes Simona Halep, Kiki Bertens and Belinda Bencic.
We break down the draw and predict semi-finalists.
Estimated quarterfinals: Ashleigh Barty (1) vs. Belinda Bencic (7) (0-0)
Ashleigh Barty (PA Sports)
World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty has had a difficult move as she returns to action for the first time since the U.S. Open, hoping to repeat her run in 2017 for the Wuhan Open finals.
The French Open champion could face a repeat of the Wuhan final in 2017 already in the second round, with Caroline Garcia or Daria Kasatkina as her potential first opponent. Sofia Kenin, who beat Barty in Toronto, is her projected opponent in the third round, and it's a match-up that Barty doesn't like at the best of times, so the Australian hopes Kenin can be upset by Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (who, however, may well come from an Osaka campaign that required her to play two games Saturday). The undefeated Elise Mertens, a quarterfinalist at the US Open, also lurks in this section.
US Open semifinalist Belinda Bencic has lost her last three matches in Wuhan, but has every incentive to do better this year as she currently sits in eighth place on the road to Shenzhen – and every opportunity to do better: She opens against a qualifier or Ekaterina Alexandrova with Madison Keys, who just had to retire in Osaka with a foot injury, her projected third-round opponent. Petra Martic having an excellent season will be a bigger threat.
Projected quarterfinals: Simona Halep (4) vs Kiki Bertens (6) (3-3)
Simona Halep (PA Sports)
Halep, as the 2016 Wuhan semi-finalist, returns to action for the first time since suffering a shock second-round defeat at the U.S. Open, after retiring from Zhengzhou with an ankle injury.
However, the Wimbledon champion has been quite lucky with his draw through the first few rounds. She is likely to open against Wimbledon semi-finalist Barbora Strycova – not as scary an opponent on tough pitches as she is on the grass – and could face Donna Vekic, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist, in the third round, though Vekic has to contend with Victoria Azarenka in the first round. It should allow Halep to get her feet under her.
Kiki Bertens, who, like Halep, struggles for a Shenzhen location but is in a much less enviable position down in ninth place, opens against a qualifier but enters Wuhan on a three-match losing streak. The Dutchman plays with confidence and will face the winner of a packed mini-section in the third round – defending champion Aryna Sabalenka (in some form himself), Sabalenka's first-round opponent Aliaksandra Sasnovich, 2015 Wuhan champion Venus Williams, who beat Bertens in Cincinnati, or Australian Open semifinalist Danielle Collins.
Projected quarterfinals: Wang Qiang (8) vs. Elina Svitolina (3) (1-3)
Elina Svitolina (PA Sports)
A Wuhan semi-finalist in 2014, Svitolina withdrew from Guangzhou last week due to right knee pain, so it is a little surprising to see her in the draw for the Premier-5 event – but the Ukrainians are currently in tenth place on the road to Shenzhen, and has to press if she is to qualify for the event and give herself a chance to defend her title.
If Svitolina can weather early rounds and she's in shape, she has a decent draw, but she might have to contend with Garbine Muguruza or Peng Shuai in her opening match and Caroline Wozniacki, Wozniacki's first-round opponent Su-Wei Hsieh or Yulia Putintseva in the last 16.
Wang Qiang ran a brilliant race to the Wuhan semi-finals last year as she put together an incredible result this season on Asian hard lanes. But the Chinese player has struggled so far in 2019 with the exception of a surprising US Open quarter-final, and she will be under heavy pressure in Wuhan, opening against Rogers Cup semi-finalist Marie Bouzkova or Wimbledon quarter-finalist Karolina Muchova. Angelique Kerber, who was a semi-finalist in Wuhan in 2015 and recently broke her losing streak with a run to the Osaka semi-finals (and maybe beyond), is likely waiting in the final 16.
Projected quarterfinals: Petra Kvitova (6) vs. Karolina Pliskova (2) (3-1)
Karolina Pliskova (PA Sports)
The only woman to win multiple titles at the Wuhan Open, Kvitova is trying to save a season that started brilliantly and has since been decimated by a left forearm injury with a strong Asian swing – and has a real chance of qualifying for the WTA the final if she can get some wins over the next few weeks, currently in sixth place.
Kvitova plays for the first time since his second round defeat to Andrea Petkovic at the U.S. Open, opening against Washington, D.C. champion Jessica Pegula or, more likely, Polona Hercog having a pretty good season. Sloane Stephens may be waiting in the last 16, though Zhang Shuai is a more likely opponent – and a difficult one – for the Czech Republic.
Karolina Pliskova, who has already qualified for Shenzhen, has won more WTA Tour matches than anyone else in 2019 and more titles to boot. Pliskova looked outstanding in Zhengzhou, where she won her fourth title of the year, but has never really shined in Wuhan. She opens against Amanda Anisimova, who plays for the first time since San Jose and the tragic death of her father, or Samantha Stosur, who is in the Guangzhou final this week. Anastasija Sevastova, who has final points to defend next week in Beijing, is her projected third-round opponent, but the facilitator has struggled for wins lately and Ajla Tomljanovic, who has been in decent form of late, or the dangerous Dayana Yastremska migh get through instead.
Semifinals: Bencic d. Halep
Pliskova d. Kerber
Final: Bencic d. Pliskova
Wuhan Open tennis is live from Wuhan from September 22 to 28, 2019