Women’s Look Forward: Wuhan, Tashkent

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Copyright © 2015. No duplication is permitted without permission from Bob Larson Tennis.

There is no question that the Big Event of the fall season is Beijing; it’s a Premier Mandatory, and presumably everyone who can be there will be there. But to call Wuhan second fiddle to Beijing would be to give a very wrong impression. It’s more like… first viola. (No viola joke intended!) Wuhan is slightly weaker, and has slightly fewer points, but really, these two are the two jewels in the crown. Their combined value is almost as much as a Slam, and between them, they will largely settle who goes to Singapore. We may not see any clinches this week. But we will see a lot of eliminations.

So with that big buildup, we would obviously expect a very strong tournament. And, indeed, we have seven of the Top Ten. What we don’t have is… Serena Williams. She’s presumably resting for Beijing. Also missing are Lucie Safarova, who is not healthy, and Flavia Pennetta, who of course is semi-retired. Of the rest of the Top Twenty, we’re missing Timea Bacsinszky and Ekaterina Makarova. Still, that’s fifteen of twenty.

Including Maria Sharapova, who is finally returning to action. She was given a wildcard, and is the #2 seed. Seeded #1 is Simona Halep, who had her troubles in Guangzhou but who has more reason to give it her all at this event. Petra Kvitova is the #3 seed and in Halep’s half; Caroline Wozniacki is #4 and in Sharapova’s. Garbine Muguruza is #5 despite her slump; she is in Wozniacki’s quarter. Angelique Kerber’s ranking just took a hit, but she is #6 and in Sharapova’s quarter. Carla Suarez Navarro, whose slump is even worse than her doubles partner Muguruza’s, is #7 and in Halep’s quarter. The #8 seed and last bye goes to Karolina Pliskova, who is in Kvitova’s quarter.

(Funny that just about everyone from #5 to #8 is struggling. You’d think they were all trying not to play Singapore.)

In the Round of Sixteen, Halep is drawn against #13 Andrea Petkovic, who lost much too easily in Guangzhou. The first seed Sharapova would face is #16 Sara Errani — a tough assignment for someone with so much rust! Kvitova has drawn #15 seed and US Open finalist Roberta Vinci, while Wozniacki will have to deal with #14 Madison Keys. Muguruza will take on #9 Ana Ivanovic, another player who under-performed in the Pan Pacific. Kerber will have to face #11 Belinda Bencic, who may be a little tired after the Pan Pacific but who is in very solid form. First up for Suarez Navarro is #10 Agnieszka Radwanska, another player who rediscovered her form at the Pan Pacific. And Pliskova will play her third round against Elina Svitolina, who has bounced around in the rankings this year but who has been showing herself a very tough customer.

With a cutoff for seeding just below the Top Twenty, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that many of the seeds are likely to be challenged. Halep will have to open against Svetlana Kuznetsova or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Petkovic will likely play Victoria Azarenka in the second round — meaning that Halep could face Azarenka in the third… whew! And speaking of “whew!” — Radwanska has to open against Venus Williams, with Alize Cornet likely to follow. Kvitova will probably start against Daria Gavrilova. Svitolina will play a generational battle against Daniela Hantuchova in the first round, then perhaps Varvara Lepchenko. Pliskova will probably start against Samantha Stosur, the top unseeded player. Muguruza might open against Sloane Stephens. Ivanovic’s second round might be against Dominica Cibulkova, who beat her at the Pan Pacific. Keys will likely face Kristina Mladenovic in round two. Wozniacki could open against new Top Thirty player Anna Karolina Schmiedlova. Kerber will probably open against Jelena Jankovic. Bencic starts against Eugenie Bouchard, who will make her post-concussion return to action, then maybe Camila Giorgi. Errani will face Caroline Garcia, then perhaps CoCo Vandeweghe. And Sharapova is likely to face Barbora Strycova in her return to action.

This week’s event at Tashkent shows a phenomenon that we can’t recall seeing before: An event that used to stand alone getting rescheduled against a bigger event — and getting stronger as a result.

That’s not to say it’s a strong event. It’s not. The only Top Fifty player is #1 seed Annika Beck. The rest of the seeds are #2 Carina Witthoeft, #3 Polona Hercog, #4 Johanna Larsson, #5 Katerina Siniakova, #6 Margarita Gasparyan, #7 Jelena Ostapenko, and #8 Andreea Mitu, meaning that the cutoff for seeding is around #85. But that’s quite an improvement compared to some past years in which there were no Top Fifty players and only about four players in the Top Hundred. We even have some fairly big unseeded names — Jana Cepelova, Bojana Jovanovski, Klara Koukalova, Yaroslava Shvedova, Elena Vesnina, Donna Vekic, and Seoul finalist Aliaksandra Sasnovich among them. It’s clear that a lot of these players knew they should come to Asia, and wanted to play an actual WTA event rather than a Challenger or qualifying, so they gave Tashkent one of the best fields it has ever had.

The Rankings

If you’re tired of us saying this is a funny week, we can’t blame you; we’re tired of saying it! But this really is an odd rankings week, because we have a mandatory event coming off (Beijing). That means that everyone will take off whatever they earned at Beijing last year, and add in their seventeenth best event or Wuhan, whichever is greater.

Last year, Maria Sharapova won Beijing. (No wonder she really wanted to come back this week!) Petra Kvitova was the finalist, with Samantha Stosur and Ana Ivanovic semifinalists. The quarterfinalists were Serena Williams (who gave Stosur a walkover), Roberta Vinci, Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Simona Halep (who gave Ivanovic a walkover. That was a very short quarterfinal day…).

It’s funny how that all adds up to — very little at the top of the rankings. Serena is of course safe at #1. Halep is also quite secure at #2; her lead in that contest could almost double. The surprise is that Sharapova is safe. She could lose a lot of points — but Kvitova is losing a lot, too, so Sharapova is sure to stay #3, although perhaps not by much.

Kvitova isn’t absolutely safe at #4, but it’s the way to bet — the next two players down, Safarova and Pennetta, aren’t playing, and Wozniacki and Muguruza, who are, are more than 500 points back. Wozniacki needs a title to have any shot at Kvitova, and very possibly a title; Muguruza certainly needs a title.

It’s hard to be sure just who will be in and out of the Top Ten, because the Pan Pacific final could affect the list, but it appears safe to say that Serena, Halep, Sharapova, Kvitova, and Safarova are in. Pennetta and Wozniacki and Muguruza look like good bets but aren’t clinched. That leaves two spots. In safe points, they will belong to Karolina Pliskova and either Agnieszka Radwanska or Belinda Bencic, whichever wins the Pan Pacific final. But fromm Pennetta, #6 in safe points, to Kerber, #13, is less than 500 points. So it’s a real scramble for those last few Top Ten spots.

Ana Ivanovic is down to #14 in safe points. Roberta Vinci is out of the Top Twenty. Samantha Stosur is at #25. Svetlana Kuznetsova could easily fall below #35. And Alize Cornet, who made the third round last year and is slumping, could easily lose her Top Forty spot.

Copyright © 2015. No duplication is permitted without permission from Bob Larson Tennis.


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