Angelique Kerber’s first tournament as the World No. 1 player was not a successful one. The German lost her round-of-sixteen match in Wuhan last week, falling to eventual champion Petra Kvitova in a highly competitive and entertaining match. Next up for Kerber is next week’s China Open where she looks to have more success despite not having a first-round bye.
The Premier Mandatory tournament in Beijing is an odd one in the sense that it awards byes to players who did well in Wuhan. Usually byes are pretty straight forward as they go to the higher-ranked players on tour. However, at the China Open the four semifinalists from Wuhan will get direct entry into the 2nd round. Those players are Svetlana Kuznetsova, Simona Halep, Kvitova, and Cibulkova.
It’s a system that appears to be designed to award rest to weary players. However, it also reduces the merit of byes to one week of play as opposed to the 52-week rollover period that affects the rankings.
For Kerber, the draw still doesn’t look challenging early on. After losing on Wednesday in Wuhan she will enter the China Open in Beijing on plenty of rest, opening her tournament against a qualifier. Seeded players nearest to the World No. 1 in the draw are Elina Svitolina, Venus Williams, and Timea Bacsinszky. If Kerber plays anything close to how she played in New York or in Wuhan then a spot in the semifinals is her’s for the taking.
Kvitova, provided that she hasn’t picked up any kind of injury following her six matches in Wuhan, might well be headed toward the semifinals too. Her level of play is such that she looks a lot more like the former Grand Slam champion that she is as opposed to the player that has struggled through much of 2016. If the first-round bye helps her recover from her efforts in Wuhan, then she’s a huge force on the side of the draw opposite to Kerber.
Romania’s Halep promises to be a key player in the tournament as well. Furthermore, Madison Keys, who has been quiet on tour of late, should be looking to do some damage as she sits on the bubble for the WTA World Tour Finals. Karolina Pliskova, seeded 5th in the draw, has a tricky first-round match as she will face Lucie Safarova. Meanwhile, Caroline Wozniacki and Agnieszka Radwanska appear to be the major threats in the 2nd quarter.
As a Premier Mandatory event, all of the top players in the world that are fit to play are in the draw. Missing players include Serena Williams, who has a shoulder injury, and the pregnant Victoria Azarenka. However, the turnout in Beijing, which offers over $1.1M to the champion, is otherwise very impressive. Preliminary matches have already begun with the final next Sunday, on October 9th.