What's at Stake: the China Open is key to the rankings race

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Maria Sharapova is already through to the second round at the China Open. (AP)

Were the women in Wuhan or Beijing this weekend? It was hard to tell on Saturday, as Caroline Garcia and Ash Barty were playing a final in one city, at the same time that Maria Sharapova and Anastasija Sevastova were duking it out in a first-round match in the other. Both were three-set thrillers and both were must-see TV, which only made it seem more illogical that they had been scheduled together. We know the WTA’s fall lineup is crowded, and we know that Wuhan was a late-comer to the party, but there must be a way to give its final a time slot of its own.

By now, of course, the women have all moved on to Beijing, where they’ve been joined by the men—the China Open is the WTA’s final Premier Mandatory event of 2017, as well as the last significant duel-gender tournament. The race for the year-end championships and the No. 1 ranking will continue on the women’s side, and both will pick up again in earnest on the men’s. The current holder of that No. 1 position, Rafael Nadal, begins his busy fall campaign this week. Here’s a look ahead at what to watch for from Asia over the next seven days.


China Open (WTA)

Beijing

$6,381,679; Premier Mandatory

Hard court

Draw is here

It may be hard to see from Europe and the States, but with 60 players and $6.4 million in prize money, the women’s China Open is big. So big, it was already well underway by Saturday: It may be hard to top the aforementioned epic first-rounder that Sharapova and Sevastova put on that evening.

But if there’s a tournament that should be rife with competitive matches, it’s this one. Everyone who could make the trip has made it—which basically means everyone except Venus Williams (left knee), Madison Keys (left wrist) and Serena Williams (mom).

In the race for No. 1, Garbiñe Muguruza will try to increase her lead over Simona Halep, who needed three sets to win her opener over Alison Riske. But getting to the final will be an adventure for both women. The Spaniard will start against Barbora Strycova, with the winner facing a rejuvenated Julia Goerges. Meanwhile, Halep will contend with Wimbledon semifinalist Magdaleina Rybarikova, for the right, possibly, to take on the woman who beat her at the US Open, Sharapova. There aren’t a lot of easy paths anywhere in Beijing. As in Wuhan, another surprise final wouldn’t be, well, much of a surprise.

Second-round matches to watch:

Barty vs. Elina Svitolina

Jelena Ostapenko vs. Sam Stosur

Sharapova vs. Ekaterina Makarova

Already out: Johanna Konta and Svetlana Kuznetsova. The Brit and the Russian are in the running for the final two spots in Singapore, but neither could take advantage of the other’s early defeat. Konta has now lost five straight.


China Open (ATP)

Beijing

$4,089,265; 500 ranking points

Hard court

Draw is here

$6 million for the women, $4 million for the men; between prize money and appearance fees, the China Open is putting up some serious money for a week’s work.

While the men make less as a whole, they divvy it up between half as many players. Beijing is a mandatory 64-draw on the WTA side; it’s a mid-level 500 event on the ATP side, with a 32 draw.

Nadal is at the top of that draw. Last year here he was beaten by Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals; he shouldn’t have any problem besting that and picking up some ranking points, right? Not so fast: Rafa will start against Lucas Pouille, and then he could face Karen Khachanov and John Isner before potentially meeting Dimitrov in the semis.

Also here: Juan Martin del Potro, Alexander Zverev, Nick Kyrgios

First-round matches to watch:

Nadal vs. Pouille

Dimitrov vs. Damir Dzumhur, who has had a strong fall

Tomas Berdych vs. Jared Donaldson

Zverev vs. Kyle Edmund


Rakuten Japan Open (ATP)

Tokyo

$1,706, 175; 500 ranking points

Hard court

Draw is here

You might think one $10 million dual-gender event would be enough for one week; but then you might not know tennis very well. Along with Beijing, the men are also in Tokyo. With 500 ranking points available, and typically solid fan attendance, it’s not a small tournament, either.

Tokyo can’t boast top-level star power, but it should boast quality matches. Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic, David Goffin, Kevin Anderson and Sam Querrey are the top six seeds. And they’ll be motivated. With so many top players already out of the ATP’s World Tour Finals in London, guys like Anderson and Querrey now find themselves with a chance to make their first year-end championship.

First-round matches to watch:

Thiem vs. Steve Johnson

Goffin vs. Feliciano Lopez

Querrey vs. Richard Gasquet

 

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