Maria Sharapova has a tough task as she returns to the court in Beijing, coming up against Anastasia Sevastova - the woman who beat her at the US Open.
WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen
September 29, 2017

BEIJING, China - The final Premier Mandatory event of the season is set to kick off on Sunday at the China Open. Much like the season's Grand Slams, the Premier Mandatories have seen three different champions so far, with Elena Vesnina winning Indian Wells, Johanna Konta winning Miami, and Simona Halep winning Madrid. In a season highlighted by a diverse set of new titlists, who will reign supreme in Beijing?

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Tournament Snapshot

Top 8 seeds: No.1 Garbiñe Muguruza, No.2 Simona Halep, No.3 Elina Svitolina, No.4 Karolina Pliskova, No.5 Caroline Wozniacki, No.6 Johanna Konta, No.7 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No.8 Dominika Cibulkova.

Top half: Muguruza, Svitolina, Wozniacki, Cibulkova

Bottom half: Halep, Pliskova, Konta, Kuznetsova

Projected quarterfinals: Muguruza-Wozniacki, Svitolina-Cibulkova, Konta-Pliskova, Kuznetsova-Halep

Last year's final: Agnieszka Radwanska d. Johanna Konta, 6-4, 6-2.

Main draw play begins on Sunday. Subscribe to WTA TV to stream all the action.

Shoring up for Singapore

No.1 Garbiñe Muguruza, No.2 Simona Halep, No.3 Elina Svitolina, and No.4 Karolina Pliskova are all looking to get their games in order and their confidence in flight ahead of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. Muguruza, Pliskova, and Halep are playing their final tournaments of the regular season in Beijing, and a run of match-wins over top competition would do them well. This is especially true for Halep, who has lost her last three matches. She opens against Alison Riske.

Muguruza is nursing a left leg injury coming into Beijing, having picked up the injury at the Toray Pan Pacific Open. Despite being hobbled, she has put together a solid Asian swing, making the semifinals in Tokyo and quarterfinals in Wuhan, where she lost to Jelena Ostapenko in three sets. A champion here in 2015, Muguruza opens against Barbora Strycova.

As for Pliskova, she's made back-to-back quarterfinals in Tokyo and Wuhan, but is still looking for the edge that made her the woman to beat through the first three months of the season. She plays Carla Suárez Navarro in the first round. 

Maria Sharapova's US Open redux

Now ranked No.104, 2014 champion Sharapova takes the court for the first time since the US Open, where she lost to Anastasia Sevastova in the Round of 16 in three tough sets. So who does Sharapova open against in Beijing? Sevastova. Potentially waiting for the Russian in the third round is No.2 Simona Halep, who she ousted in one of the best matches of the season in the first round of the US Open.

Another pair of players who would probably be fine with not seeing each other across the net are Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka. For the third time in just over a month, the two will face off again, this time in the first round in Beijing. Osaka knocked Kerber out of the US Open in the first round, while Kerber got her revenge two weeks ago in Tokyo. 

The Porsche Race to Singapore coming down to the wire

Seven spots were up for grabs in the Porsche Race to Singapore at the start of the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, but with Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, and Venus Williams qualifying last week, only three spots remain for the WTA Finals. 

French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko could clinch her spot with the title in Wuhan, and her solid run through the Asian swing has put her in good position to make her Singapore debut. By virtue of making the semifinals in Wuhan, the 20-year-old has a performance bye into the second round in Beijing. Caroline Wozniacki is also in the hunt and could secure her spot this week. She opens against Wang Qiang, who stunned Sloane Stephens last week in Wuhan.

The most intriguing position is the final qualifying position at No.8, which is currently held by Johanna Konta. In Konta's rear-view mirror are Kristina Mladenovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, CoCo Vandeweghe, and Sloane Stephens, all of whom have a chance to overtake the British No.1 this week in Beijing. Konta, who is currently on a  four-match losing streak, plays her first match against Romania's Monica Niculescu.

First-round matches to watch 

Maria Sharapova vs. Anastasija Sevastova, Simona Halep vs. Alison Riske, Angelique Kerber vs. Naomi Osaka, Karolina Pliskova vs. Carla Suárez Navarro, Garbiñe Muguruza vs. Barbora Strycova, CoCo Vandeweghe vs. Donna Vekic, Caroline Wozniacki vs. Wang Qiang, Eugenie Bouchard vs. Magdalena Rybarikova.