Week in Preview: Swinging into Asia

by: Steve Tignor | September 28, 2015

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Belinda Bencic takes part in this week's big event in Wuhan, while David Ferrer tries for another title in Kuala Lumpur. (AP)

For tennis fans in the West, and especially in the U.S., this is the time of year when everything happens while we sleep. Upsets, epics, trophy-hoistings, meltdowns: They’re tough to keep up with, and keep straight, when the tours head to Asia. This is when we find out what it feels like to be Australian. 

Sometimes you can miss more than just a match. On Monday morning I woke up to discover that Belinda Bencic had not only lost her final in Tokyo, she had already traveled to Wuhan, China, and won her first round there. I guess when you’re 18 you don’t need any sleep at all. A private jet doesn’t hurt, either: Tokyo offers them to its finalists.

Here’s a look at what awaits Bencic and the rest of the players in action this week, as the tours begin to get into the Asian swing of things.

*****

Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open (WTA)

Wuhan, China
$2,513,000; Premier 5
DecoTurf II
Draw is here

As you can probably tell from Bencic’s adventures, the women are off to a faster start in Asia than the men. That’s partly because Wuhan is in its second year, and has had to wedge itself into an already crowded, and shortened, WTA schedule. But while it isn’t a mandatory event, with $2.5 in prize money for its 56 entrants, it’s not one that a player will pass up lightly, even if she has to go without sleep to get there. Hence the excellence of the draw: Most of the Top 20, with the prominent exception of Serena Williams, has made the trip to Li Na’s hometown.

Many of them, even as I write this preview on Monday morning in New York, have already started their weeks: Bencic, Jelena Jankovic, Madison Keys, Roberta Vinci have all won

Unfortunately, the second seed, Maria Sharapova, is already out, retiring early in the third set of her opener versus Barbora Strycova. This was Sharapova’s first match since Wimbledon. Injuries have plagued her this season, and she’s still scheduled to defend her title in Beijing, go to the season-ender in Singapore, and play the Fed Cup final for Russia.

Even worse, Eugenie Bouchard had to withdraw due to lingering problems from the concussion she suffered at the U.S. Open. Will we see her again in 2015?

Wuhan, however, has a deep bench, and, if everything goes according to plan, it will feature some third-round matches worth staying up for (or at least taping): 

—Simona Halep, the top seed, could play Victoria Azarenka in a rematch of their U.S. Open quarterfinal.

—Petra Kvitova, a lover of the late season, could play Vinci, the Open runner-up.

—No. 8 seed Karolina Pliskova might play No. 12 Elina Svitolina in a match between two of this season’s up-and-comers.

—Garbiñe Muguruza will play Sloane Stephens next, while Ana Ivanovic might get a second chance in as many weeks against Dominika Cibulkova.

—Keys could play Caroline Wozniacki

—Bencic, if she can keep her eyes open, is scheduled to play Angelique Kerber

Speaking of keeping her eyes open, Agnieszka Radwanska, champion in Tokyo this weekend, just walked off the plane and onto the court to play Venus Williams. 

Who said nothing happens in the fall?

*****

Malaysian Open (ATP)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
$1,041,540; 250 rankings points
Hard courts
Draw is here

It may be hard to remember or picture now, but David Ferrer won three titles in January and February. Since then, the 33-year-old has slowed considerably; an elbow injury has limited him to just two ATP events since Roland Garros. But he did play the U.S. Open, and won both of his matches in Davis Cup last weekend. Now he’s the top seed in Kuala Lumpur. Ferrer has made a mint over the years by grinding his way though the fall, while his higher-ranked opponents rest. Is there any reason to think he won’t continue that tradition in 2015? Like many of his colleagues, the Spaniard’s decline in his 30s has been a slow and relatively graceful one so far.

Also here: Grigor Dimitrov, Nick Kyrgios, Ivo Karlovic, and No. 2 seed Feliciano Lopez. Ferrer’s fellow 30-something Spaniard doesn’t seem to be declining at all; he played some of the best tennis of his career this summer.

*****

Shenzhen Open (ATP)

Shenzhen, China
$668,945; 250 ranking points
Plexicushion
Draw is here

Shenzhen, the ATP’s other, slightly less lucrative 250 of the week, would be a better fit before the Australian Open; it’s played on the same Plexicushion surface used in Melbourne. Call this week pre-preparation for 2016.

Tomas Berdych, whose Grand Slam season started so promisingly and ended so tepidly, will start his post-Slam season here as the top seed. If all goes according to plan, he’ll meet No. 2 seed Marin Cilic in the final. 

*****

Tashkent Open (WTA)

Tashkent, Uzbekistan
$250,000; International
Hard courts
Draw is here

Yes, there is another women’s event in mighty Wuhan’s shadow. While it’s being played in Uzbekistan, it has an oddly German flavor. Annika Beck and Carina Witthoeft are the No. 1 and 2 seeds.

Player to watch: Aliaksandra Sasnovich. The 21-year-old Belarussian came out of qualifying, beat Stephens 6-3, 6-2, and reached the final in Seoul on Sunday. We’ll see if she has anything left after that eight-matches-in-a-week effort.

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