The WTA Tour moves swiftly on to week 40, but remains in China for the Premier Mandatory China Open in Beijing.
We ended the week in Wuhan with a comfortable winner in the form of Petra Kvitova, who covered the minus 3.5 game handicap against Genie Bouchard in the final of the Wuhan Open on Saturday.
The Asian swing continues with another star-studded line-up of the cream of WTA talent in Beijing this week, with all of the world’s top-10 in action.
All expect Na Li, that is, with the Australian Open champion having retired from the sport having massively boosted the appeal of tennis in this part of the world.
We play on an average paced outdoor Decoturf hard court this week in conditions that are always tough due to the poor air quality in Beijing.
Similarly to Wuhan last week it will be hot, humid and at times very difficult to breathe, so long matches will take their toll here more than perhaps any other venue.
There are 11 WTA matches scheduled for Sunday in this joint ATP/WTA event and we start at around 05:30 UK time, at which point it’s forecast to be 21C and around 65 percent humidity.
Sam Stosur and Fran Schiavone start us off in the morning with what will be their 13th career meeting of a series that the Aussie leads 8-4 currently, but her form is not good right now and she looks too short for my liking at 1.52.
Also at 05:30 there’s an intriguing clash between two player in decent form right now with Kate Makarova and Garbiñe Muguruza and the over 20.5 games at 1.83 looks worth considering there.
Heather Watson has her work cut out against Venus Williams and the Brit will need to hope for a poor day from Venus, which isn’t that unlikely, but Watson hasn’t shown me anything lately that makes me want to back her.
Roberta Vinci and Slava Shvedova are two out of form players clashing at 05:30 and if I were pressed I’d side with the Italian there, but not with any real confidence at a price of 1.62, which looks a little short.
Vinci’s pal Sara Errani should get past Karumi Nara, but her price doesn’t appeal either, so my focus would be on Maria Sharapova or Simona Halep today.
Simona Halep vs Barbora Zahlavova Strycova
I couldn’t possibly be backing Halep at the moment, as it looks like the Romanian is having a bit of a crisis of confidence just now.
Halep admitted as much even before her first round Wuhan loss to Muguruza, so logic would suggest that it’s even lower now.
She certainly hasn’t had a good hard court summer, with defeats to Mirjana Lucic Baroni and Magda Rybarikova in recent tournaments and she’s looked very much out of sorts on the hard courts.
Losses as 1.06, 1.12 and 1.34 favourite in her last three events have caused this crisis and although she may well win today I doubt it will be straightforward against the crafty Czech.
BZS beat Madison Keys and Dani Hantuchova in Wuhan before losing to Angelique Kerber and she did beat Halep in their only career meeting, although it was some four years ago and holds barely any relevance today.
More noteworthy is the great season that BZS has had that has seen her reach her peak ranking and beat a top-five ranked opponent (Na Li) for the first time in her career.
She won’t get many better chances to beat the ‘new’ Halep than on Sunday and at 3.45 to win set one or 2.20 to win with a 1.5 set start she looks worth chancing on Sunday in Beijing.
I also wouldn't be too keen to side with Sharapova against the powerful Estonian Kaia Kanepi, with the Russian struggling for form herself and having lost as 1.18 (twice), 1.45, 1.27 and 1.13 favourite in her last five tournaments.
Sharapova isn't striking the ball well right now and the 2.18 about +1.5 sets on Kanepi is the other one I like on Sunday.
Back Zahlavova Strycova +1.5 sets to beat Halep at 2.20