TIANJIN, China - Karolina Pliskova and Aryna Sabalenka are two of six players fighting for the last three available spots at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, and as the No.1 and No.4 seeds respectively at the Tianjin Open are on course for a projected semifinal clash.
Over the course of Sabalenka's second-half sledgehammer breakthrough into the upper echelon of the sport, the Belarusian, last year's runner-up in Tianjin, has defeated Pliskova twice as part of her eight Top 10 victories - in Eastbourne in June and in Cincinnati in August, both over marathon three-setters. But before that potential match, the highest-ranked 1998-born player has to take on the second highest-ranked from that generation in the first round - the speedy Sofia Kenin, whom she defeated in the third round of Wuhan en route to the title.
Another American, No.7 seed Danielle Collins, or the always-dangerous Yulia Putintseva - both of whom are capable of matching or even exceeding Sabalenka's intensity - could await in the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, Pliskova opens against the experienced Varvara Lepchenko, who has never defeated the Czech but has pushed her to three sets in two of their three meetings; and a rematch of the former World No.1's tempestuous Rome loss to No.7 seed Maria Sakkari is her projected quarterfinal.
Singapore is no longer on the line for any of the players in the bottom half, but No.2 seed Caroline Garcia - bounced out of the Top 10 exactly one year after first entering it - will seek to regain some form after failing to defend her titles at either Wuhan or Beijing this year. The Frenchwoman opens against a qualifier, with No.6 seed Petra Martic - fresh off her biggest title to date at the Chicago 150K - possibly awaiting in the last eight.
The third quarter, meanwhile, finds No.5 seed Hsieh Su-Wei and Ajla Tomljanovic still inextricably bound to each other over this year's Asian swing: their first-round tilt will be their third encounter in the past month. Thus far, the pair have split meetings, both in three sets, with the Chinese Taipei No.1 winning their Hiroshima quarterfinal en route to her third career title and the Australian gaining revenge the following week in the Seoul semifinals. In the second round, the winner could face the only previous champion in the field this year - 2014 victor Alison Riske, who also reached the 2016 final.
No.3 seed Elise Mertens is projected to await whoever emerges from the Hsieh, Tomljanovic and Riske section in the quarterfinals here, but the Belgian must first navigate the two highest-ranked home favorites: Zhu Lin, currently at a career high of World No.102 but seeking to make her Top 100 debut, in the first round, and Wang Yafan, fresh off pushing Garcia to three sets in Beijing, in the second round.
TIANJIN OPEN 2018 DRAW
[1/WC] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) vs. Varvara Lepchenko (USA)
Lara Arruabarrena (ESP) vs. Polona Hercog (SLO)
Kateryna Kozlova (UKR) vs. Qualifier
Katie Boulter (GBR) vs.  Maria Sakkari (GRE)
 Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) vs. Sofia Kenin (USA)
Magda Linette (POL) vs. Evgeniya Rodina (RUS)
Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) vs. Qualifier
Timea Bacsinszky (SUI) vs.  Danielle Collins (USA)
 Hsieh Su-Wei (TPE) vs. Ajla Tomljanovic (SRB)
Qualifier vs. Alison Riske (USA)
Qualifier vs. Wang Yafan (CHN)
Zhu Lin (CHN) vs.  Elise Mertens (BEL)
 Petra Martic (CRO) vs. Duan Yingying (CHN)
[WC] Yuan Yue (CHN) vs. [WC] Liu Fangzhou (CHN)
Qualifier vs. Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU)
Qualifier vs.  Caroline Garcia (FRA)