BEIJING, China - Five of the world's Top 20 will head to Beijing this week to battle it out for the China Open, the second stop-off of this season's Asian swing. Svetlana Kuznetsova is the defending champion at the $600,000, Tier II event and after finishing runner-up at the US Open and helping Russia to their third Fed Cup triumph success over the past fortnight she will be hoping to continue her rich vein of form in the Chinese capital.
Kuznetsova is also top seed this week and will be looking to build on her impressive 7-1 win-loss record at the Beijing Tennis Centre. The 22-year-old Russian has had a remarkably consistent season on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, winning the title in New Haven as well as runner-up finishes at a further five events - including her aforementioned run at Flushing Meadows. These successes have seen Kuznetsova rise to a career-high ranking of No.2 and after winning 12 of her last 13 matches, she will start the defence of her title in buoyant mood.
Serbian star Jelena Jankovic is the No.2 seed in China and she will be hoping to add the hardcourt title to her burgeoning trophy cabinet. The 22-year-old from Belgrade has enjoyed a magnificent season to date, securing four Tour titles - including the Tier I events in Charleston and Rome - and rising to a career-high ranking of No.3. In her previous appearance at the tournament, Jankovic made a run all the way to the semifinals and she will be eager to improve on this when she gets her campaign underway against either Olga Poutchkova or Virginia Ruano Pacual.
Last year's runner-up Amélie Mauresmo will make her eagerly anticipated return to the Tour after a two month injury lay-off at the China Open. The 28-year-old Frenchwoman has not struck a ball in anger since participating in France's 3-2 Fed Cup defeat to Italy in July because of an adductor strain and after missing out on the US Open she will be looking for a good showing in Beijing. The former world No.1 has struggled for form as well as fitness this season, failing to make it beyond the quarterfinals in over half the tournaments she has competed in, but despite her lack of match-sharpness the two time major winner is still likely to pose a significant threat this week.
The remaining seeds are comprised of the elegant Russian Elena Dementieva (No.4), Swiss star Martina Hingis (No.5), high-flying Hungarian Agnes Szavay (No.6), feisty Spaniard Anabel Medina Garrigues (No.7) and the recent New Haven semifinalist Eleni Daniilidou (No.8).
There are also several dark horses lurking in the draw with the ability to cause an upset or two and none more so than three-time Grand Slam winner, Lindsay Davenport. The 31-year-old American made her first singles appearance on Tour since September 2006 in Bali last week and proceeded to embark on a sensational title run on the Indonesian island. It is a mere three months since Davenport gave birth to her first child, Jagger Jonathan Leach Davenport, a fact which makes her comeback triumph all the more impressive.
This is the eighth staging of the China Open and Beijing is its second location. From 2001 to 2003 the event took place in China's most populous city, Shanghai, before moving up the Yellow Sea coast to the nation's capital. Alongside Kuznetsova the other players to have triumphed at Asia's premier tournament are Maria Kirlienko (2005), Serena Williams (2004), Elena Dementieva (2003), Anna Smashnova (2002), Monica Seles (2001) and Meghann Shaughnessy (2000). This year's winner will receive a cheque for $88,265, while the losing finalist will pocket $47,125.