Wuhan woes open Road to Singapore for Kvitova and Wozniacki

The Wuhan Open may have hoped for greater good fortune in its debut on the WTA calendar

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis

The Wuhan Open may have hoped for greater good fortune in its debut on the WTA calendar.

As the biggest of the three newcomers to Chinese soil, this city at the very centre of China certainly attracted a field in keeping with its status as one of the big Premiers of the year.

But it was an inauspicious start: Wuhan’s home star and Asia’s only Grand Slam champion, Na Li, chose this week to announce her retirement from the sport that put China on the tennis map like no other player.

And she was just the first of a flood of top players to fall before the tournament had made it to the half-way point.

In the first round, both Ana Ivanovic and Dominika Cibukova were forced to retire injured, while Flavia Pennetta and Lucie Safarova were beaten.

The second round was even more devastating, with three top seeds exiting from in first matches: No1 Serena Williams retired with viral illness; No5 Agnieszka Radwanska lost in a gruelling contest from a set up, 6-3, 6-7, 6-7; No2 Simona Halep also lost in three sets.

And in a strange quirk of the draw, Williams’ retirement handed victory to Alize Cornet, who also beat Williams at Wimbledon and Dubai this year, and the French woman took full advantage by going on to beat Kirsten Flipkens to reach the quarter-finals.

Injury took out another seed, No10 Jelena Jankovic, bringing the tally of retirements so far to six—and a third round with just five seeds of the original 16 still standing after Sara Errani, Ekaterina Makarova and Andrea Petkovic were also beaten.

And still the stars continued to be snuffed out: This time, it was No4 Maria Sharapova, falling to Swiss qualifier Timea Bacsinszky, 7-6, 7-5, and that opened the door for former world No1 and No8 seed, Caroline Wozniacki, to close in on a place at the WTA Championships in Singapore.

For with all three of those who have already qualified now out of contention—Williams, Halep and Sharapova—the race is on for the remaining five places. And as Ivanovic and Radwanska, the next two in the race, are also out, the following four have a great chance to seal big points with just three more weeks left on the calendar.

One of those is the resurgent Wozniacki, who has bounced back from assorted niggling injuries early in the season to find the consistency for which she is famed. Since hitting a ranking low of 16 during the grass season, she has flourished on her favoured hard courts to win Istanbul, reach the finals of the US Open and Tokyo, as well as the quarters and semis in Montreal and Cincinnati.

She has not reached the WTA Championships since her top-ranking season of 2011, and it would surely mean the world to do so after a year of tennis and personal hurdles.

Lurking in Wozniacki’s half, however, lies one of her prime competitors for Singapore, No8 in the race to Wozniacki’s No9: Eugenie Bouchard. The Canadian has broken new ground at almost every turn this season to shoot up from 32 at the start of the year via two semis and a final in three Grand Slams. It would therefore surprise nobody if she closed the year with one more landmark, a first WTA Championships.

But currently in prime position is 2011 Championship winner Petra Kvitova at No6, who played her familiar trick of letting a winning position slip in the second set before coming back to win in the third against fellow Czech, Karolina Pliskova.

Should Kvitova beat Caroline Garcia in the quarters, she will go head-to-head with one of the challengers for a top-eight place, No10 Angelique Kerber. The German has reached the round robin stage of the Championships for the last two years, but Kvitova has this year been showing the kind of form that took her to the end-of-year title in 2011 and, just as then, Kvitova already has the Wimbledon title in her pocket.

So it’s all to play for, not just in Wuhan in these few remaining days, but in the ever-diminishing number of tournaments that separate these women from their Singapore prize.

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