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Mandatory Viewing: Previewing the WTA Beijing Draw

Sep 27th 2013

The final WTA Premier Mandatory event  of 2013 kicks off in Beijing on Saturday.  Nearly all of the top 20 women will participate, including someone who rarely makes the trip to East Asia.

Serena Williams

First quarter:  Nobody except Victoria Azarenka has stopped world No. 1 Serena Williams at a non-major in the last 12 months.  Plenty of her potential opponents in Beijing have tried and failed, including Francesca Schiavone at the Rogers Cup.  That former Roland Garros champion opens this evening against a fellow clay specialist, Alize Cornet.  Several women known for their doubles skills populate the rest of this section, from the slumping Maria Kirilenko to a resurgent Zheng Jie.  The Chinese bundle of steel has produced inspired tennis in several upsets over former No. 1s this year, and.  she has played more than one tight match against Serena.  But Zheng first must subdue Simona Halep, who won four titles this summer.  A pair of steady counterpunchers will vie to face Serena in the quarterfinals on this relatively slow court.  Both Sloane Stephens and Caroline Wozniacki have scored notable hard-court victories against the world No. 1 in the last two years, showing that they can punish her on unfocused days.  Unfortunately for them, Serena probably remembers those setbacks and will spare no effort in avoiding a recurrence.

Second quarter:  This section strikingly resembles the fourth quarter of the Tokyo draw, featuring three of the same seeds.  Crossing the Sea of Japan with momentum and a first-round bye in Beijing, Angelique Kerber eyes an accommodating path.  A second straight match against a fellow lefty, following the Tokyo final against Petra Kvitova, could await when Kerber faces promising but erratic young star Laura Robson.  Among the home hopes in this section are former Beijing quarterfinalist Peng Shuai and the Guangzhou champion of two weeks ago, Zhang Shuai.  Looking to capitalize on another wildcard this week, Zhang may fancy her chances against world No. 12 Roberta Vinci in the second round, considering the latter’s early loss in Tokyo.  The other side of this section features two familiar foes, between whom the tide has shifted with time.  Former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic once dominated her meetings with current No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, but the Pole has solved her over the last few years.  The unseeded players between them also intrigue, such as US Open semifinalist Flavia Pennetta in an opener against Ivanovic.  Near Radwanska stands Dominika Cibulkova, who defeated her on a hard court in Stanford this summer.

Petra Kvitova

Third quarter:  Two of the Tokyo semifinalists appear in a quarter stacked with talent.  A rematch of the three-set thriller yesterday between Petra Kvitova and Venus Williams remains far from certain considering the quality of their opposition.  While Kirsten Flipkens has struggled since reaching the Wimbledon semifinals, she might score an upset on Saturday against the emotionally spent Sara Errani.  Kvitova surely would prefer to see someone other than Flipkens in the third round, having fallen to the Belgian at Wimbledon.  And Venus can expect to taste some of her own medicine in a battle of booming serves against Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki.  This section features several women who have excelled on grass, not only those above but Birmingham champion Daniela Hantuchova.  Like Kvitova, Lisicki, and Venus, Hantuchova often struggles to sustain her risky shot-making on a slower surface.  But the main storyline for home fans in this section revolves her first opponent, Chinese superstar Li Na.  The world No. 5 reached the semifinal at her home tournament last year and at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, suggesting that she can rise to the occasion.  Strong form on the American summer hard courts also bodes well for Li.

Fourth quarter:  In contrast to the section above, this section features no Tokyo semifinalists and thus no byes.  That said, two of the unseeded women here reached the quarterfinals last week.  While Lucie Safarova will look to upset the floundering Samantha Stosur for the second straight week, Svetlana Kuznetsova has landed near the draw’s greatest question mark.  Beijing defending champion Victoria Azarenka, Serena’s greatest rival by far, exited Tokyo in her first match when she could not recover from an illness.  Azarenka issued a walkover at Tokyo last year, though, only to win Beijing in dominant fashion a week later.  The medium pace of these courts suits her game better than the more volatile shot-makers near her, but her draw poses challenges from the outset.  After an opener against former top-10 player Andrea Petkovic and a meeting with Kuznetsova, Azarenka could face the only woman not named Williams to defeat her on this surface in 17 months.  Stosur probably cannot repeat that upset, though, and the defending champion has owned potential quarterfinal opponents Jelena Jankovic and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.  Those latter two women will meet in one of the draw’s most intriguing first-round matches.

Beijing hosts a simultaneous ATP 500 event starting on Monday, while Tokyo shifts from women to men with an ATP 500 event of its own.  You can find previews of them here on Monday.