WTA Wuhan: Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open Preview
The Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open will take place at the Optics Valley International Tennis Centre in Wuhan, China. This year marks the fifth edition of the tournament. Photos: Top (Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open) and bottom (Yifan Ding/Getty Images).

The final Premier 5 tournament of the season, the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, is set to kick off Sunday. This year’s tournament has an all-star line-up on the plate as former champions Petra Kvitova and Caroline Garcia, along with eight of their other top 10 counterparts will lead the field of this year’s tournament, which also features a total of nine Grand Slam champions. With the WTA Finals approaching, top players will be seeking good results this week, with vital ranking points up for grabs, in order to secure qualification at the year-ending championships set to begin end of October.

Focus on Wuhan

The city of Wuhan, the most populous city in central China, is the birthplace of Chinese trailblazer Li Na and also the capital of Hubei province. It has been playing host to the tournament since its inception in 2014 when it replaced the Toray Pan Pacific Open as the Asian Premier 5 event, with the latter downgraded to a regular Premier event.

Since then, the five-year-old event, played on the hardcourts, has seen the likes of Grand Slam champions Kvitova and Venus Williams lift the trophy, the former doing so in 2014 and 2016. Last year, the tournament witnessed a surprise championship round line-up, an all-unseeded final featuring Garcia and Ashleigh Barty. France’s Garcia came out on top in a three-setter to seal one of the biggest titles of her career to date, the start of the Frenchwoman’s stellar finish to the 2017 season. The tournament’s 56-player draw sees its top eight seeds receive byes into the second round.

The tournament venue is located at the Optics Valley International Tennis Centre. The facility stands in the vicinity of the city centre, on the eastern bank of the Yangtze river. 

First quarter

Halep, the world number one, is the top seed in Wuhan. Photo credit: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography.
Halep, the world number one, is the top seed in Wuhan. Photo: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography.

Top seed and world number one Simona Halep takes her place at the top of the draw, guaranteed to face a Slovak in her opener, one of Magdalena Rybarikova or Dominika Cibulkova. 13th seed Daria Kasatkina is seeded to meet Halep in the third round, and the Russian faces Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko in her opener, the winner then slated to take on either American wildcard Bernarda Pera or a qualifier.

On the other side of the quarter, former world number one Victoria Azarenka has drawn 11th seed Julia Goerges of Germany, the winner taking on one of Hsieh Su-wei or a qualifier next. Sixth seed Elina Svitolina bookends the quarter and the Ukrainian number one was handed a tough opener, as she faces the winner of the opening-round clash between Aryna Sabalenka and Carla Suárez Navarro, a rematch of the New Haven final last month.

Halep has proven herself as the world number one this year, making two Grand Slam finals and winning one, her maiden Grand Slam title, at the French Open. The Romanian also has two more trophies and two other runner-up finishes to account for her stellar season and is set for another good run in Wuhan. Sabalenka should be able to continue her summer resurgence, having won New Haven besides making the Cincinnati semifinals and the last 16 of the US Open, to record another quarterfinal result at a Premier 5 tournament. However, going up against Halep in the last eight, the world number one should be too much for the young Belarussian to handle.

Prediction: Halep d. Sabalenka

Second quarter

Bertens will seek to back up her recent solid results on hardcourts with a good showing in Wuhan. Photo credit: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography.
Bertens will seek to back up her recent solid results on hardcourts with a good showing in Wuhan. Photo: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography.

The top seeds in the quarter are Wimbledon champions in Angelique Kerber and Kvitova. Third-seeded Kerber is due to clash with either a qualifier or Madison Keys, who had just recently beat her in Cincinnati, in her opener. Also present in Kerber’s eighth are 16th seed Barty, who was handed a tough opponent in the first round, Brit Johanna Konta. The winner of that match will then face either American Danielle Collins or local wildcard Zheng Saisai in the second round.

Kvitova, a two-time champion here and seeded fifth this year,  is guaranteed to face either Camila Giorgi of Italy or Serbia’s Aleksandra Krunic in her opening match, the Czech having lost her most recent meeting with both players. The Czech’s route to the last eight does not get any easier with the likes of 12th seed Kiki Bertens, who beat her in back-to-back weeks in Montreal and Cincinnati last month, Belinda Bencic, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Anastasija Sevastova all looming.

Bertens has shown this year that her game can translate to success on surfaces outside of clay, capturing the title in Cincinnati, along with a run to the last eight in Montreal last month, beating a string of top 10 opponents in those tournaments. The Dutch player should be able to carry on her momentum on hardcourts, and with Kerber being handed a manageable draw, the two women should clash in the quarterfinals where Bertens looks set for another top 10 win on this surface.

Prediction: Bertens d. Kerber

Third quarter

Defending champion Garcia is the fourth seed in Wuhan this year. Photo credit: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography.
Defending champion Garcia is the fourth seed in Wuhan this year. Photo: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography.

The only quarter with more than two qualifiers placed, newly-minted US Open champion Naomi Osaka opens it, the Japanese player slated to face either Zhang Shuai or wildcard Samantha Stosur in her opener. Across her eighth, ninth seed Sloane Stephens drew Anett Kontaveit in her opener with the winner going to face either CoCo Vandeweghe or Donna Vekic next.

Defending champion Garcia closes this quarter and could face a compatriot in her opener that is if Kristina Mladenovic gets past her opponent in the first round, a qualifier. 14th seed Garbiñe Muguruza is the first seed Garcia could clash with in her title defence. The Spaniard’s path to the last 16 looks manageable. If the former world number one gets past Alison Van Uytvanck, who beat her in the second round of Wimbledon this year, in the opening round, she is guaranteed to face a qualifier next.

Osaka has been on great form this past month, making the semifinals of her home tournament in Tokyo as of writing, after capturing her maiden Grand Slam crown at the US Open. The Japanese number one could be fatigued entering Wuhan and Stephens should be able to take advantage of that to move into the last eight. Up against Garcia in the quarterfinals, however, the Frenchwoman’s powerful game, should be enough to see her through to another semifinal appearance in Wuhan.

Prediction: Garcia d. Stephens

Fourth quarter

Pliskova is looking to break through to the semifinals of Wuhan for the first time in her career. Photo credit: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography.
Pliskova is looking to break through to the semifinals of Wuhan for the first time in her career. Photo : Jimmie48 Tennis Photography.

Eighth seed Karolina Pliskova, who had just made the final in Tokyo as of writing, opens her campaign against wildcard Wang Qiang or Maria Sakkari of Greece, the latter having recently beaten the Czech in Rome earlier this year. Alizé Cornet and Barbora Strycova also clash in the first round, the winner due to take on either 10th seed Jelena Ostapenko or Aussie Daria Gavrilova next.

Second seed Caroline Wozniacki is at the bottom of the draw and the Dane’s form has not been encouraging off-late, failing to win back-to-back matches since capturing her second title of the year in Eastbourne back in June. The first seed she could meet in Wuhan is 15th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium but she would need to get past either Timea Babos or qualifier in her opener first. Mertens drew Aliaksandra Sasnovich in her opening match, with compatriot Kirsten Flipkens or a qualifier as her next opponent.

With a decent draw, Wozniacki should be able to rediscover some form and sail into the quarterfinals. Pliskova has had a rather mediocre season thus far, with just one title, at Stuttgart, and two Grand Slam quarterfinals, to boast. The Czech should be able to carry on her good form from Tokyo and get through her first few matches unscathed to move into the last eight, where she should be able to see off Wozniacki to record her first semifinal showing in Wuhan.

Prediction: Pliskova d. Wozniacki

Semifinals: Bertens d. Halep, Pliskova d. Garcia

Playing with good form and newfound confidence on hardcourts, and having won their most recent clash in Montreal with the loss of just four games, Bertens should enter the final with the odds arguably in her favour. The Dutchwoman looked zoned throughout her title run in Cincinnati and despite an earlier-than-expected exit at the US Open, to Marketa Vondrousova in the third round, she looks set for another memorable week, and at another Premier 5 tournament too.

Pliskova, on the other hand, will be searching for her first title at the regular Premier level and above since capturing the Cincinnati title in 2016, the Czech’s last four titles have come at the regular Premier events. In a final between big-hitters, the Dutchwoman should be able to find a solution and see off her Czech opponent for an equal-biggest title of her career and solidify her position in qualifying for the WTA Finals.

Final: Bertens d. Pliskova