Surprise First Round Results In Beijing Heat Up Race To WTA Finals

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World #1 Garbiñe Muguruza became the latest seeded player to fall in the first round of the Beijing Open, after she retired due to a virus in the second set of her encounter with World #29 Barbora Strycová. Muguruza cut a flat figure on-court, losing the first set 6-1 without any real fight or response to the variety in Strycová’s groundstrokes. The Caracas-born Spaniard then retired when Strycová broke her in the second set to claim a 2-0 lead. In her post-match press conference, Muguruza said that she had been carrying a virus since the tournament in Wuhan last week, where she lost in the quarterfinals to Jelena Ostapenko in three sets, adding also that she had not wanted to retire before the tournament because she had wanted to give it a try despite the illness.

The result is the latest in what has been a mixed Asian hard court season for Muguruza so far. She is yet to add to her previous title at the Cincinnati Open in August, and she has only made the semi-final of a tournament once at this stage so far this year, being routed 6-2 6-0 by a ruthless Caroline Wozniacki in Tokyo.

On the other hand, Muguruza is not the only player in the Top 20 to have struggled in Beijing, and on the East Asian hard courts, for that matter. US Open champion Sloane Stephens convincingly lost her rain-delayed first round match 6-3 6-0 to US qualifier, and world #71, Christina McHale. Stephens admitted after the match that things just didn’t happen for her out on court, having also lost in the first round in Wuhan. She may still be recovering from the physical and mental exertion of winning her first US Open title, especially considering how many injury woes she had to overcome to achieve that feat. Now that she has little chance of qualifying for the season-ending WTA Tour Finals in Singapore, it seems that Stephens is looking forward to pre-season and next year, where hopefully she can challenge the Top 10 more consistently, and remain injury-free.

One player who will, however, be rueing a missed opportunity in Beijing is Britain’s Johanna Konta. Konta crashed out in her first round match against Monica Niculescu–who served 82% first serves in (!)–by a score of 6-1 6-2. The result leaves her hanging on in 8th place, a few spots ahead of Coco Vandeweghe and Caroline Garcia, who could put big pressure on the Brit if they have good runs in Beijing. Nonetheless, Konta had some good news when World #9 Svetlana Kuznetsova lost her first round match in Beijing in three sets to Lara Arruabarena of Spain. Kuznetsova snatched the final spot in the WTA Finals qualifying from Konta last year by winning the St Petersburg Open, and it seems as though the Russian is going to have to produce more of the same sort of heroics this year round, if she is to have any chance of catching Konta. Kristina Mladenovic, who is tied with Kuznetsova in the Race, also lost in her first Beijing match.

With only five WTA tournaments to go until the WTA Finals in Singapore, there is still a lot to play for in the women’s game, especially if seeded players keep losing in the early rounds of tournaments, as they have been doing. We also have the potential prospect of a Wozniacki versus Sharapova grudge match in Beijing to look forward to, so despite the Grand Slam season being done and dusted, there’s still plenty to look forward to on the WTA circuit in the coming month.

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