WTA Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open preview: Sabalenka aims to defend title as Barty, Pliskova battle for #1 ranking
Image courtesy of Wang He

The final Premier 5 event of the 2019 season takes place this week as the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open gets underway with Ashleigh Barty aiming to hold on to her number one ranking admist the challenge of Karolina PliskovaThe Aussie must win her first match and Pliskova would then have to reach the semifinals and go one round further than the reigning French Open champion.

Aryna Sabalenka is the defending champion and will aim to join Petra Kvitova as the only two-time winners of the event in the six-year history of the tournament. Several other big names litter the draw as well as a batch of young rising stars in what promises to be an exciting week at the Optics Valley International Tennis Center.

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First quarter

Barty will open her tournament in the second round after receiving a bye in the first round. She'll face the winner of Caroline Garciawho beat her in the 2017 final and Daria Kasatkina15th seed Sofia Keninfresh off of her third career title in Guangzhou, also lurks in this section. The American faces Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova while Osaka semifinalist Elise Mertens squares off with Katerina Siniakova.

Seventh seed Belinda Bencic plays her first event since reaching the U.S. Open semifinals. She'll open with the winner of an all-Russian battle between qualifier Veronika Kudermetova and Ekaterina Alexandrova. 12th seed Madison Keys was forced to retire in the Osaka quarterfinals and faces a tough opener against Camila Giorgi while Zhengzhou finalist Petra Martic faces Kristina Mladenovic.

Prediction: Barty def. Bencic

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Second quarter

Fourth seed Simona Halep is fresh off of announcing a reunion with coach Darren Cahill starting in 2020. The Romanian begins her tournament against Barbora Strycova or wild card Wang XiyuOne of the highlight matches of the first round is Victoria Azarenka against 16th seed Donna Vekic while Bucharest championElena Rybakina meets qualifier Lin Zhu

Sabalenka begins defense her title against countrywoman Aliaksandra Sasnovich while a pair of all-American matches are also in this section: Venus Williams facing Australian Open semifinalist Danielle Collins and Jennifer Brady meeting Bernarda Peraboth qualifying with the winner to play sixth seed Kiki Bertens.

Prediction: Bertens def. Halep

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Third quarter

Eighth seed Wang Qiang is fresh off of a run to her first major quarterfinal in New York, upsetting Barty along the way. She gets a bye to start and then meets the winner of the all-Czech matchup between Marie Bouzkova, a semifinalist in Canada and Karolina Muchovawho is in the Seoul final. Angelique Kerber was just beaten by Pavlyuchenkova in the Osaka semifinals and she faces Monica Puig while the dangerous Alison Riske plays qualifier Kateryna Kozlova.

Third seed Elina Svitolina retired against Bouzkova in Guangzhou and her draw after a first round bye could see her pitted against two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza in a blockbuster second-round match if the Spaniard gets by Peng Shuai in her opener. 13th seed Caroline Wozniacki matches up with the always entertaining Hsieh Su-wei while Svetlana Kuznetsovawho qualified, draws Yulia Putintseva.

Prediction: Muguruza def. Muchova

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Fourth quarter

Pliskova aims to regain the top ranking after winning the title in Zhengzhou over Martic. She will open up against the semi-resurgent Samantha Stosurcoming off of a runner-up finish in Guangzhou to Kenin or Amanda Anisimova, playing for the first time since the sudden death of her father. 14th see Anastasija Sevastova plays qualifier Christina McHale while a rematch of the Hua Hin final sees Ajla Tomljanovic take on Dayana Yastremska.

Kvitova begins her quest for a third Wuhan title with a bye followed by a matchup with either Washington champion Jessica Pegula or Lugano winner P HercogAnother American to qualify was Lauren Davis and she will be pitted against Acapulco titlist Wang Yafan while Sloane Stephens, embarrassed by Giorgi in Osaka,  faces of Shuai Zhang.

Prediction: Kvitova def. Pliskova

Semifinals: Barty def. Bertens, Kvitova def. Muguruza

Final: Kvitova def. Barty