BEIJING, China - A China Open featuring every single former champion except the retired Agnes Szavay will have its inaugural titlist attracting the most attention, as World No.1 Serena Williams will take the court for the first time since capturing her 17th Grand Slam title at the US Open.
Williams has appeared in Beijing just twice since her 2004 triumph, but will compete in this year's edition full of confidence. It was announced on Friday she has clinched year-end No.1 for the third time, she has a career-best nine WTA titles this season and at 67-4 so far, has a chance to finish the season with the best match win percentage of her career.
The fans will also be delighted to see Venus Williams here for just the third time in her career. And she should have boosted confidence as well, as she is fresh off an impressive semifinal run in Tokyo that included a second round upset of World No.2 Victoria Azarenka that was her best win in terms of ranking since a defeat of then-World No.1 Dinara Safina at Wimbledon in 2009. Williams and fellow Tokyo semifinalists Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber and Petra Kvitova also have been given first round byes in Beijing to give them ample time to rest between tournaments.
Other possible title threats include Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska, who are in a tie for third-most WTA titles in 2013 with three each. Azarenka did not lose more than four games in a set during a dominant title run here last year, and Radwanska was victorious here in 2011 to go along with a runner-up showing in 2009.
Svetlana Kuznetsova could also be dangerous based on her history here, as she is Beijing's only two-time winner, with titles in 2006 and 2009 to go along with runner-up showings in 2004 and 2008.
Beijing will go a long way toward determining who secures the last three berths remaining for the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships - Istanbul. Sara Errani, Kvitova, 2008 Beijing winner Jelena Jankovic, Kerber and 2010 Beijing champ Wozniacki are the leaders among those still in contention, but it is possible for others to get in contention as well if they have a deep run here.
Among the four teams still in contention for Istanbul's last three doubles berths, two of them are in the doubles field in Beijing - Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai and Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua. The Williams sisters are also playing doubles for the first time in a non-Grand Slam, non-Olympic event since Madrid in May 2010. They could play No.1 seeds Errani and Roberta Vinci in the second round if both duos win their openers.