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On the lyrically entitled Lotus Court and Moon Court, eight opportunistic competitors have advanced to the quarterfinals at the WTA’s last significant event outside the year-end championships.  Not all stars glow with equal luminosity, though.  We organize them below from supernovas to Sevastovas.

Wozniacki:  Having swiped the #1 ranking from the world’s most famous manicurist, the Great Dane now has won 21 of her last 22 matches and 16 consecutive matches at non-majors.  Few players who can blunt her momentum remain in the draw, which includes none of the storied Slam champions against whom she typically struggles.  During her first two rounds, Wozniacki rebounded from a stomach complaint to dispatch the often tricky Errani and exact satisfying revenge from her Wimbledon conqueror, Kvitova.  Although the Dane fell to Ivanovic on the medium-speed hard courts of Melbourne two years ago, the Wozniacki of 2010 has evolved far beyond the Wozniacki of 2008 and will bring a much sturdier degree of self-belief to their encounter.  Having won her last five finals, the top seed displays none of the nerves that cripple so many of her rivals in championship matches.  Nevertheless, Wozniacki’s vaunted consistency has wobbled occasionally during her last two tournaments; in Tokyo, she escaped these lapses, but she couldn’t escape them in New York.  And how sharply will her motivation dwindle after capturing the top spot?  To her credit, Wozniacki seems more focused upon winning matches than wooing the computer, and the inevitable controversy over her rise to #1 won’t escalate to a maelstrom until after the event.

Zvonareva:  Probably a bit dazed from her US Open heroics, the most successful Russian of 2010 trudged to an uninspired exit in Tokyo last week.  Sturdier at this tournament, Zvonareva posted two tight wins over talented compatriots en route to a quarterfinal with Schiavone.  Although Safina remains far beneath her former heights, she had defeated Vera at prestigious events and thus posed the sort of psychological test that often has flustered the world #4.  After routing Petkovic for the second time in three tournaments, Zvonareva weathered the tenacious Kirilenko and displayed her best tennis in the match’s culminating stages, always an encouraging omen.  Her head-to-head record against the reigning Roland Garros champion looms at an intimidating 9-0, including five consecutive hard-court victories since early 2008.  (Oddly, they meet in the Chinese capital for the fourth time in just over two years; Schiavone has not won a set in the three previous Beijing meetings.)  In the semifinals, Zvonareva probably will clash with another of her victims during that bronze-medal run in the 2008 Olympics, Li Na.  Likely to prevail in that meeting, the second seed would seek to improve upon her dismal 2010 record in finals.  During four straight defeats in title tilts this year, Zvonareva has won five or fewer games on all of those occasions.

Li:  Vociferously exhorted by her compatriots, the flamboyant Chinese hope has shown few signs of the illness that forced her to withdraw from Tokyo.  Emphatic against the inflammable Kleybanova, Li has trampled upon her first three foes with the smooth relentlessness that characterizes her game at its best, a level that she reached during the Olympics two years ago here.  Implacable when focused, she should dismiss Sevastova’ pedestrian game as briskly as she dispatched the unheralded Kerber.  Considering the Chinese star’s shot-making talent and crisp ball-striking, one suspects that she could have won many more titles had injuries not derailed her at inopportune moments.  On the other hand, Li ultimately crumbled under the pressure of China’s expectations when she faced Zvonareva for the Olympic bronze medal.  If she faces the Russian again in parallel circumstances, those memories might return.  A Slam semifinalist this year, Li has yet to acquire a title as prestigious as her home tournament, but no player remains in the draw against whom she would find herself clearly overmatched.  Demoralizing at the time, her underwhelming summer may have positioned her for an explosive fall, since she enters these events fresher than her more renowned rivals.

Schiavone:  Following her spine-tingling Roland Garros fortnight, most commentators sensed that the Italian would spend the rest of her season in contented contemplation of her unexpected prize.  The feisty Schiavone confounded expectations again, however, by reaching three consecutive quarterfinals at the prestigious events in New York, Tokyo, and Beijing.  Overcoming talented Slovenian youngster Polona Hercog with ease, she rallied from a one-set deficit against fellow veteran and doubles expert Dushevina.  Despite her history of futility against Zvonareva, Schiavone probably enters their quarterfinal with greater motivation, incited by the goal of finishing a season in the top 10 for the first time.  Away from clay, the Roland Garros champion must rely upon an especially advantageous draw in order to win an elite tournament.  That said, the draw here has settled into a relatively benign condition after a fusillade of early upsets; last fall, Schiavone claimed the Kremlin Cup in a similarly opportunistic manner.  If the Italian can circumvent Zvonareva, she might ultimately find herself in another final, a situation where she has flourished as much as the Russian has floundered.

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Ivanovic:  Avenging two 2010 losses to Bartoli in the first round, the sensuous Serb has advanced to the quarterfinals without dropping a set.  Although her serving percentage has lagged below optimal levels, Ivanovic has dominated behind her first serve and unleashed forehands reminiscent of her 2008 glory.  Most importantly, Ana rediscovered her inner resolve when she captured two tiebreaks from Tokyo finalist Dementieva, a round after she erased a substantial second-set deficit against Govortsova.  Reversing a trend that characterized her slump, the former Roland Garros champion delivered her most impressive tennis at the most critical moments, including two aces in the match-ending tiebreak and a bold backhand winner on match point.  With no rankings points to defend this fall, Ivanovic has capitalized upon the opportunity to inch up the rankings in preparation for a 2011 return to relevance.  While she has won both of her previous meetings with Wozniacki, those matches occurred at the zenith of the Serb’s ascendancy in early 2008.  She should enter their quarterfinal free from pressure or expectations, allowing those factors to settle squarely upon the shoulders of the newly crowned #1.  At the US Open, however, Ivanovic proved emotionally unable to summon that insouciant attitude against the defending champion.  Having not captured a tournament since 2008, Ana remains far from reaffirming her status as an elite title contender.

Peer:  Experiencing a modest revival in 2010, the steely Israeli has delivered perhaps the most commanding performance of the tournament, during which she has surrendered more than two games in just one of the six sets that she has played.  Upon closer analysis, though, these lopsided scorelines may speak as much to the quality of her opposition as to her own brilliance.  Dispatching a Chinese wildcard in the first round and Serbian qualifier Jovanovski in the third round, Peer confronted only one foe with any experience on this stage, the seemingly ageless Schiavone.  Nevertheless, the road doesn’t become much more arduous in the quarterfinals, where another Swiss player lies ahead.  If Peer advances to a potential semifinal with Wozniacki, she should gain confidence from her victory over the Dane in Dubai, the tournament that triggered her renaissance.  But the newly minted #1 presents a much more imposing challenge now than she did in February.  Even in the area of her greatest strength, consistency, Peer can’t equal Wozniacki unless the latter’s breathless schedule exerts a toll upon her physical and mental reserves.

Bacsinszky:  Even dedicated fans know little about the wide-eyed Swiss upstart, who profited from a recurrence of Azarenka’s leg injury after barely edging Tokyo sensation Julia Goerges in a third-set tiebreak.  Presented by Vika with a second life, Bacsinszky capitalized with aplomb by ousting Sharapova-killer Vesnina in a much more comfortable affair.  Against Peer, she won’t find herself regularly overpowered or outmaneuvered, yet her inexperience and impetuosity probably will play into the Israeli’s hands.  While the WTA has unveiled numerous surprises throughout the year, the Beijing Premier Mandatory title seems even more remote from a player of Bacsinszky’s status than did the Madrid Premier Mandatory title from Rezai.

Sevastova:  A game away from defeat in her opener against Stosur, the Latvian somehow broke the Australian’s formidable serve on two straight occasions to record her third notable upset of the season.  On the similarly medium-speed hard courts in Indian Wells and Monterey, Sevastova downed first Ivanovic and then Jankovic in losses that seemed to illustrate the struggles of the Serbs more than her own talents.  Sharing a passport with Gulbis, she has crafted a vastly divergent game from Ernests that relies upon paceless, soporific groundstrokes to lull opponents into febrile errors.  Following a surprising three-set win over Cibulkova, Sevastova received a walkover from Petrova, who probably would have ended her run.  We expect Li Na to prove less accommodating than the Russian.

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Look for further astronomical observations from the Chinese capital in the days ahead!

 

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Regularly rewarding the Russians who have set foot in its arena, Beijing crowned three Olympic medalists from that nation in 2008 and Kuznetsova in 2009.  Already expelled from this year’s tournament, however, Sveta will surrender her crown to a colleague hungry to conclude the season on an emphatic note (and with an avalanche of rankings points).  Opportunists should beware, however, for the 2009 champion struggled mightily throughout 2010.  Which emboldened competitor believes that she can reverse that trend?

First quarter: Poised within two victories of the #1 ranking, Wozniacki may face a third-round encounter with Wimbledon nemesis Kvitova before sealing her grasp upon the top spot.  Before then, though, the Czech lefty will reprise her Wimbledon quarterfinal with Kanepi, during which she saved multiple match points before prevailing 8-6 in the third.  An almost identical scenario unfolded when they met in Memphis, where Kvitova saved a match point and then seized a third-set tiebreak, so this second-round clash ranks among the most intriguing in the draw.  Although a quarterfinal rematch of the Tokyo final might loom in the quarterfinals, Dementieva will need to navigate past the evergreen Date Krumm, who led her by a set and a break in her Stanford opener.  Almost as likely to meet Wozniacki in the quarterfinals is her Cincinnati conqueror Bartoli, who retired from Tokyo last week but tends to be most dangerous when least discussed.  Nearly undefeated since Wimbledon, the top seed might suffer a letdown if and when she clinches the #1 ranking.  Yet she remains the steadiest competitor in this section, and her conscientious work ethic should shield her from such a lapse.

Semifinalist:  Wozniacki

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Second quarter: Despite exiting before the quarterfinals of her last seven tournaments, Jankovic somehow has claimed the third seed in this prestigious draw.  The fading Serb trailed 4-2 in both sets of her opening win over Zakopalova but should enjoy more comfortable passage in an all-Serbian clash with the promising Bojana Jovanovski.  In fact, tournament probably will witness Jankovic’s first final-eight appearance since Roland Garros, for her immediate vicinity features none of the overpowering shotmakers who typically trouble her.  On the other side of the section lies much more compelling drama, including a potential rematch of the epic duel between Sharapova and Azarenka in last year’s tournament.  During most of her opener, Russian scalded her groundstrokes with much greater authority than Tokyo and approached the forecourt more aggressively; nevertheless, her serve can lurch from sublime to hideous and back within the course of a few points, while her confidence visibly wavered late in both sets.  If she can dispatch Tashkent finalist Vesnina, Maria will need her trademark intensity to overcome Azarenka, who similarly struggled with her serve and her confidence in Tokyo.  Vika has regularly alternated excellent results with premature exits throughout the summer and fall, so her Tokyo semifinal appearance might suggest early disappointment in Beijing.    But Azarenka’s competitive desire seems to burn more brightly than Sharapova’s at the moment.

Semifinalist:  Azarenka

Third quarter: After leading 5-2 in the third set, fourth-seeded Stosur ultimately fell to a qualifier and thus further opened this already wide-open section.  An opportunist at the majors this year, Petrova performed impressively in last year’s event but remains an enigma from one day to the next.  In a productive partnership with Safina’s former coach, Cibulkova continued her resurgence with an emphatic win over the wallowing Wickmayer; her baseline consistency and explosive moment could trouble Nadia if her serve falls short of its best.  Last year’s finalist Radwanska doesn’t exactly tower atop the section, although the deities of the draw have handed her a pair of exceptionally friendly opening rounds.  But the name that leaps out of this odd cast of characters is ninth seed Li Na, who launched an unforgettable semifinal run in this stadium during the 2008 Olympics.  Forced to withdraw from Tokyo with a gastrointestinal illness, the Chinese warrior thumped Tashkent champion Kudryavtseva in her opener.  If she can outslug the ever-dangerous Kleybanova in the second round, she should repeat her comprehensive Wimbledon triumph over Radwanska.  Expect the home crowd to lift Li to a memorable performance again.

Semifinalist:  Li

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Fourth quarter: Featuring the most intriguing first-round match in the draw, this section already has witnessed the departure of the defending champion, another Premier Mandatory champion (Rezai), and Hantuchova.  Ever eager to seize the spoils of war, Schiavone probably will profit from the debacles of others to prance into the quarterfinals with minimal ado.  But the question of whom she will face at that stage remains murky.  Fellow upset artists Dulko and Kirilenko engage in a stylish second-round meeting, while the winner of the Safina-Zvonareva clash confronts future top-20 player and top-10 personality Petkovic.  Although all-Russian matches generally defy predictions, they often offer riveting melodrama through vertiginous momentum shifts and entertainingly overt expressions of angst.  Still searching for her first marquee win since back surgery, Safina will hope to reproduce the 2009 Australian Open semifinal but probably lacks both the consistency and the self-belief to outlast Zvonareva.  Nevertheless, Vera displayed vulnerability during two wins and a straight-sets loss in Tokyo, during which she resembled her former, star-crossed self more than a two-time Slam finalist.  Both players comfortably overcame Petkovic on the American hard courts, so the winner probably will advance to the quarterfinals.  Once there, they possess more than enough weaponry to conquer Schiavone, although the Italian’s artistry could frustrate these fragile Russians.  On the other hand, Safina and Zvonareva will derive confidence from the 2008 exploits on this court, where they claimed the silver and bronze medals for their nation.

Semifinalist:  Safina-Zvonareva winner

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A counterpoint to the marquee WTA tournament, the concurrent 500-level ATP event has compiled a draw much more imposing than its significance would suggest.

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Top half: Seemingly fond of Djokovic-Berdych collisions, the deities of the draw have arranged another quarterfinal clash between two players who met in the Wimbledon semifinals and the Davis Cup semifinals just after the US Open.  En route to that rendezvous, the revitalized Serb eyes a tranquil path past a Chinese wildcard and the winner of Fish-Tipsarevic, both of whom have often won sets from him but neither of whom has defeated him.  Not unlike Wawrinka, Tipsarevic generally cedes the spotlight to a colleague whom he enthusiastically labeled the greatest athlete in Serbian history, while Fish has yet to prove that he can export his success from his bastion on American hard courts.  Underwhelming since Wimbledon, Berdych might fall in the second round to 2009 US Open nemesis Querrey or Metz champion Simon, who has won their last two meetings.  Even if the Czech does reach the quarterfinals, the medium-speed Beijing hard courts favor Djokovic’s hybrid of offense and defense, which carried him to the title here a year ago.

Opportunity knocks for the players in the second quarter, bookended by the staggering Davydenko and the unreliable Verdasco, who both lost early last week to players outside the top 50.  Waging five-set slugfests against Kohlschreiber in their previous two meetings, the Spaniard might succumb in his opener against the German.  Desperately hoping for a positive end to a dismal 2010 campaign, 2009 finalist Cilic begins against the talented yet mentally brittle Bellucci; then, he probably would confront Davydenko in a contest between two players whose confidence has dwindled low in recent months.  Has Isner recovered from his Wimbledon marathon?  While the courts might not play as swiftly as he would prefer, the American constitutes a threat to implode any draw that he enters.  From the comedy of errors that probably will develop in the section, though, will surface a semifinal opponent much to Djokovic’s taste.

Finalist:  Djokovic

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Bottom half: Another Wimbledon rematch might impend between Ferrer and Soderling, who should have intersected in Kuala Lumpur last week but instead fell to Golubev.  Although few potential Golubevs lurk in their vicinity, Almagro will seek to reprise his victories over the Swede in Madrid and Gstaad this year.  More heavily favored against the Spaniard on the Beijing hard courts than on the clay of those events, Soderling nevertheless might struggle with those negative memories and his personal dislike for Almagro; like most players, the world #5 doesn’t deliver his best tennis when inflamed with emotion.  Meanwhile, Ferrer opens against New Haven finalist Istomin, an upwardly mobile baseliner with a crisp two-handed backhand.  If Soderling does reach the quarterfinals, he will find his consistency arduously tested by an opponent who extended him to five sets on grass this year.

Crowned the Kuala Lumpur champion today, Youzhny may enter Beijing weary from playing three consecutive three-setters in the Malaysian capital.  A slightly disquieting obstacle awaits in the first round with Ljubicic, although the Croat has receded rather quietly since acquiring the Indian Wells title.  Among the ATP’s more mercurial and charismatic inhabitants, Baghdatis will clash with the almost equally mercurial Dolgopolov before meeting Youzhny, whom he nearly defeated in Kuala Lumpur.  Anchoring the base of this half, Murray seeks to erase the memories of another early departure from the US Open.  Will the Scot rebound from that disappointment more swiftly than he did from his loss in Australia?  He has few fond memories of Beijing, having fallen to Yen-Hsun Lu in the first round of the 2008 Olympics.  In the aftermath of Melbourne, moreover, Soderling thoroughly dominated Murray at Indian Wells, a surface that should have suited the Scot.

Finalist:  Soderling

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We return in a few days to discuss the quarterfinals!

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