GUANGZHOU, China - No.2 seed and two-time champion Zhang Shuai has had her greatest successes at the Guangzhou International Women's Open, lifting the trophy here in 2013 and 2017 - and the Chinese No.1 returns this year to find her compatriots looming between her and a third home title.
All six Chinese main draw entrants and wildcards have landed in the bottom half, with Zhang opening against Wang Yafan, the 24-year-old who cracked the Top 100 in March with a fourth-round run in Miami. 16-year-old junior World No.5 Wang Xinyu also lurks in the bottom quarter, and could face 19-year-old Vera Lapko, seeded in a WTA main draw for the first time, in the second round.
If Zhang emerges from this section, her semifinal opponent could be either No.3 seed Wang Qiang or No.8 seed Zheng Saisai, whose projected quarterfinal could be a repeat of July's Nanchang final, in which Wang captured her maiden title. Two dangerous wildcards could trip the seeds up, though: Svetlana Kuznetsova, who owns a 3-0 head-to-head lead over Wang, is the 26-year-old's potential second-round opponent; and Wang Xiyu, the 17-year-old junior World No.1 fresh off a US Open girls' title run, is a possible second-round rival for Zheng.
At the top of the draw, No.1 seed and 2014 finalist Alizé Cornet will get her campaign under way against big-serving Jennifer Brady. There's a blast from the past in the top quarter, too, as former Wimbledon finalists Vera Zvonareva and Sabine Lisicki clash in the first round. The German's comeback from shoulder and knee injuries got off to a promising start this year when she reached the Taipei City semifinals in February, but since then she has compiled just a 2-9 record and is now ranked No.233 as more injuries have hampered her return.
Lisicki and Zvonareva last played in the fourth round of the 2011 US Open; the Russian, who lifted the title in Guangzhou back in 2008, has been the victor in each of their four previous meetings. Expressive No.5 seed Yulia Putintseva potentially awaits the winner this week.
Meanwhile, last year's runner-up Aleksandra Krunic headlines the second quarter as the No.4 seed; having slumped throughout the North American warm-ups, the Serb rediscovered her form to reach the third round at the US Open, and will be hoping to maintain that level as she opens against Viktorija Golubic - with big-hitting 20-year-old Viktoria Kuzmova projected as Krunic's quarterfinal opponent.
GUANGZHOU INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S OPEN 2018 DRAW
 Alizé Cornet (FRA) vs. Jennifer Brady (USA)
Kateryna Kozlova (UKR) vs. Qualifier
[WC] Vera Zvonareva (RUS) vs. Sabine Lisicki (GER)
Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) vs.  Yulia Putintseva (KAZ)
 Aleksandra Krunic (SRB) vs. Viktorija Golubic (SUI)
Ana Bogdan (ROU) vs. Christina McHale (USA)
Bernarda Pera (USA) vs. Magdalena Frech (POL)
Qualifier vs.  Viktoria Kuzmova (SVK)
 Saisai Zheng (CHN) vs. Qualifier
Fiona Ferro (FRA) vs. [WC] Xiyu Wang (CHN)
[WC] Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) vs. Qualifier
Nicole Gibbs (USA) vs.  Qiang Wang (CHN)
 Vera Lapko (BLR) vs. Vania King (USA)
Qualifier vs. [WC] Xinyu Wang (CHN)
Andrea Petkovic (GER) vs. Qualifier
Yafan Wang (CHN) vs.  Shuai Zhang (CHN)