WUHAN, China - Former World No.1 Karolina Pliskova typically enters this section of the season under a cloud of uncertainty. The 2016 US Open finalist has made it to the WTA Finals for the last three years - and clinched her fourth berth to the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen last week - but has typically done so under the wire, even narrowly missing qualification despite a breakthrough 2015 season.
"I think this is maybe almost the earliest I've qualified," she said during her Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open All Access Hour press conference. "It's different without the pressure. Of course, I said I want to enjoy little bit."
Pliskova has had a lot to enjoy in 2019, winning a tour-leading four titles - one in each quarter of the season - and has been within touching distance of reclaiming the top spot on the WTA rankings for the first time in two years.
Ever the pragmatist, the Czech sees a potential downside to feeling less of a points pressure ahead of Wuhan and the China Open, the final Premier Mandatory event of the season.
"On the other hand I think the pressure kind of helped me to stay close and play just good tennis because I won the title in Tokyo because I kind of had to, because otherwise I would not qualify.
"So let's see without the pressure if I can do also good or maybe better than last year. Last year actually these two tournaments were quite tough for me. I didn't play well. Of course, I feel totally relaxed now. There is nothing I would be stressed about. Shenzhen was my goal, and I'm there."
The good news hasn't affected the Internazionali BNL d'Italia champion in the short term; she celebrated by detouring from the Zhengzhou Open, which she won with the loss of just one set, to the KEB Hana Bank Korea Open in Seoul, where she served as on-court coach and doubles partner to twin sister Kristyna, reaching the semifinals of the latter.
"The plan was not to play anything that week, and I was thinking I had few options what to do the week after Zhengzhou. It was two hours from Zhengzhou, and two hours here. It was the best option what I could do.
"It was quite fun. Korea was nice. I won there, I think five or six years ago. I hadn't gone back since I won. It was nice just to be there couple days, enjoy. My father was there with Kristyna. I did this coaching, so at least I did something different. It didn't help much."
A self-described women's tennis fan, Pliskova laughingly recalled coaching Kristyna through a three-set defeat to in-form Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova.
"I had the microphone so I could not say really what I wanted," she joked. "But I was quite honest, I think, about the game, what she should play and what not.
"I think first time she called me it was 4-3 in the first set, and then Alexandrova did four double faults in a row, so I said it was a great move I went there. I was quite confident after this first coaching, but then the magic disappeared.
"I think it's different also to see it, like, from not being on the court. Then you still have to think, like I was thinking all the set, I was just ready for when she's going to call me. I think sometimes this can be tough for the coaches, for sure."
Set to work with with Conchita Martinez at least through the end of the season - and with the 1994 Wimbledon winner this week in Wuhan - she enjoyed a coaching experiment of her own in Zhengzhou, working instead with former WTA player, current commentator, and longtime friend Olga Savchuk.
"Of course, my team is great, but to be with them all the time sometimes can be tough, especially when you play a lot, as I do this year..."
She paused and laughed before adding, "Or every year."
"It was just totally relaxed. Of course I wanted to win because I went there. I always want to win when for on the tournaments.
"She told me couple things here and there, but it was totally without pressure. I just kind of enjoyed all the matches, even if the beginning of the tournament was quite tough with the weather. It was a lot of rain and delays.
"Somehow we just talk not about tennis much, about the matches little bit. I've known her really like 10 years, so we talk a lot. She was a player, now she's coaching here and there, and at big tournaments.
"We can also just talk about things like clothes, all the other stuff. It was nice change."
Pliskova gets back to business later this week, opening against either 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur or French Open semifinalist Amanda Anisimova.