The 2018 season is set to begin in the coming week, and one of the three tournaments in the opening week of the WTA Tour is the Shenzhen Open, where Katerina Siniakova beat Alison Riske to take the title in 2016.
Both Siniakova, seeded sixth, and Riske return this time around, though arguably the most notable name set to be in action is that of world number one Simona Halep, the 2015 champion who will be looking to improve on an early loss to Siniakova last year. Furthermore, French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and former world number one Maria Sharapova will also be looking to get their seasons off to a great start, with the likes of Shuai Zhang also set to be in action.
The winner of the tournament will gain 280 ranking points, as well as secure $163, 260 in prize money.
Projected Q/F: (1st) Simona Halep vs (7th) Maria Sakkari
There is undoubtedly some pressure on Halep this week, having lost early at the tournament last year and with her position as the world number one being at risk; however, it is fair to say that the draw gods have been fairly kind to her in the opening stages. An opening round clash against Nicole Gibbs is a test she should be able to pass with flying colors, and the Romanian should also be able to overcome either Evgeniya Rodina or Duan Ying-Ying in the second round.
This quarter has arguably thrown up one of the best opening round matches of the tournament, with rising star Aryna Sabalenka set to face Monica Niculescu in what could be an enthralling encounter. The victor in that clash could have a chance against Maria Sakkari, who has performed well in slams but has often struggled on the tour; the Greek should be able to see off a qualifier in the opening round, though would face a tougher challenge after that.
Prediction: Halep def Sabalenka
Projected Q/F: (4th) Irina-Camelia Begu vs (8th) Timea Babos
Begu had a rather mixed 2017 season, with a title on home soil in Bucharest contrasted by several early losses, and may not have an easy task against Chinese wildcard Fangzhou Liu in her first match; she should be able, however, to win that match, though a potential second round clash against Ekaterina Alexandrova could prove to be tough once again.
One player who will certainly be looking for an improved 2018 is Babos, who went through a nine-match losing streak midway through 2017. The Hungarian, like Begu, faces a Chinese wildcard in the form of Xiyu Wang in her opening match, and would have a tough second round encounter if she can win her first encounter; either Jana Cepelova or Magda Linette await in the second round.
Prediction: Begu def Babos
Projected Q/F: (5th) Qiang Wang vs (3rd) Shuai Zhang
Though she is unseeded, the big draw in this section is Maria Sharapova, ranked 60th as she continues her return following her ban. The Russian does not have an easy draw in her maiden tournament of the season, with the much-improved Mihaela Buzarnescu waiting in the first round for her. Fifth seed Wang also has a tough draw in the first round in the form of Alison Riske; the American has been the runner-up in the past two editions, so clearly finds her best form in Shenzhen.
The highest-ranked Chinese player, there may be some pressure on Zhang to deliver a strong result this week, though she does have a favorable first round draw against a qualifier in her first round match. A trickier second round match, assuming she does come through, against Pauline Parmentier or Zarina Diyas would likely provide more of a test for her, though she would be the favorite against either of those two.
Prediction: Zhang def Riske
Projected Q/F: (6th) Katerina Siniakova vs (2nd) Jelena Ostapenko
Siniakova had a magical run at the tournament in 2017, with the Czech beating the likes of Halep on her way to winning her maiden tour singles title, and she should be able to see off the potentially trick Ons Jabeur in her opening match this time. A second round encounter against Yafan Wang (who starts against a qualifier) could be another slight test, though it is undoubtedly another winnable match for the defending champion.
After a staggering 2017 season, Ostapenko will be looking to build on her success in 2018, though does not necessarily have an easy draw in her opening tournament of the year. The Latvian starts against Kristyna Pliskova in the first round, and after that could face Camila Giorgi in what would be a big-hitting encounter; Ostapenko should be able to defeat both women, though a potential quarterfinal clash against Siniakova could be a tight encounter.
Prediction: Ostapenko def Siniakova
Halep def Begu
Ostapenko def Zhang
Halep def Ostapenko