Agnieszka Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki's third meeting in as many weeks will highlight an exciting sextet of Round of 16 tilts on Thursday in Beijing. We preview the action, courtesy of WTATennis.com contributor Chris Oddo.
Round of 16
They've always been good friends off the court and intense rivals on, but never before have Caroline Wozniacki and Agnieszka Radwanska played three times in the same tennis season - let alone three weeks in a row. That will change on Thursday in Beijing when the pair meet for the third time in three weeks with a spot in the China Open quarterfinals on the line. Wozniacki has turned around her season with an electrifying run that included a win over Radwanska in the semifinals of the Toray Pan Pacific Open, but the Pole hit back last week at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, ending Wozniacki's seven-match winning streak with a 6-4, 6-2 decision over the Dane in the round of 16. 2011 Beijing champion Radwanska improved her career record at the China Open to 23-7 with a straight-sets win over Ekaterina Makarova in the second round, but she'll face a tougher challenge in Wozniacki. The Dane owns a 7-5 lifetime record against Radwanska on hard courts, and she has won four of the last five against Radwanska overall.
Pick: Radwanska in three
22-year-old Elina Svitolina notched two consecutive victories over Angelique Kerber two years ago at Wuhan and Brisbane, but since then the German has taken the power back, winning three straight over the World No.16. But Svitolina has played Kerber tough, taking her to three sets in each of their last two contests. In fact, Svitolina has always played the Top 10 tough. The Ukrainian owns three Top 10 wins in 2016, including a massive upset of then World No.1 Serena Williams at the Olympic tennis event. Can she produce a similar shock against the current No.1? Kerber comes in confident and ready for battle, having won 22 of her last 26 matches including her second Grand Slam title at the US Open, so the onus will be on Svitolina to produce inspired tennis. That's what it takes to defeat Kerber these days. Svitolina has the capability to produce it but she'll need to ratchet up her aggression and take her chances, because Kerber is as stingy as they come - and opportunistic, too.
Pick: Kerber in three
Zhang Shuai's fairytale 2016 kicked into high gear with a first-round upset of Simona Halep at the Australian Open that left the Chinese in tears at Margaret Court Arena. It was her long awaited maiden Grand Slam main draw victory and it marked the beginning of a stunning turn in fortunes for Zhang. Nearly ten months later the Chinese No.1 is 100 spots higher in the rankings and has seven Grand Slam wins under her belt. Zhang, making her first appearance in the round of 16 at Beijing in seven years, will look to produce another epic upset against Halep on Thursday, but this time the Romanian will be gunning for a shot of revenge. Halep had nothing but kind words to say after the loss in Melbourne, but she also felt she could have played with more gusto against Zhang.
"She didn't have fear," Halep told reporters after the match. "She hit all the balls? but I think I let her play her best tennis. I didn't hit very strong and I didn't hit with good strength. So, yeah, it happened and she was better today."
Halep has been one of the best players on tour since Wimbledon, and one of the most consistent. She has gone 26-4 since Wimbledon and reached at least the quarterfinals of every event she has played in that span. Can Zhang shake Halep's tree again on home soil in Beijing, or is it Simona's turn to spoil the party?
Pick: Halep in three
With slim Singapore hopes still alive, Great Britain's Johanna Konta will bid for another Top 10 upset on Thursday in Beijing when she faces Karolina Pliskova. The Czech is playing with house money after saving match point and surviving an epic battle with Russia's Daria Kasatkina on Wednesday. That type of cliff-hanging win for the powerful yet poised Czech doesn't come as a surprise. Pliskova has been a pillar of belief since late this summer. It started with her first Premier title in Cincinnati and continued when she finally reached the second week of a major at the U.S. Open. Pliskova raced all the way to the final at New York and though she didn't win a hard-fought final with Angelique Kerber, she has clearly hit her stride as a big-match player. Will she continue her fine form with a sixth consecutive victory over Konta? The pair's lifetime head-to-head might appear lopsided to the casual observer but Konta has forced Pliskova to a deciding set in each of their last four meetings. Will Thursday be the day she finally conquers the Czech?
Pick: Pliskova in three
Around the Grounds: A pair of Frenchwomen - Caroline Garcia and Alizé Cornet - will bid for quarterfinal slots on Thursday in Beijing. Cornet will bid to reach her first quarterfinal since she won the Hobart title in January when she takes on Yaroslava Shvedova for the third time. Garcia will look to win for the first time in three tries against Aussie Daria Gavrilova.