WUHAN • There are five singles berths at the WTA Finals in Singapore still up for grabs. But those on the fringes of qualification could have even more to fight for now.
With Serena Williams' coach raising the prospect of the world No. 1 skipping the remainder of the season, the race to the Republic will intensify. Should the defending champion opt against featuring in the elite eight-woman singles field, an alternate would take her place.
And with world No. 3 Maria Sharapova yesterday announcing her withdrawal from next week's China Open in Beijing - the last major tournament before the season-ending WTA Finals - the 10th player on the Road to Singapore leaderboard also has an outside chance of featuring in the Oct 25-Nov 1 blockbuster.
Going into this week, just 349 points separated Angelique Kerber, in seventh, and Caroline Wozniacki, in 13th. And with 900 points awarded to the winner at the Wuhan Open this week, and 1,000 points going to the champion in Beijing, there is plenty to play for.
Garbine Muguruza, in 11th, is among those seeking a Singapore spot. And she gave her hopes a boost with a third-round 4-6, 6-1, 6-0 win over Ana Ivanovic in Wuhan yesterday.
There was also a key win for Karolina Pliskova, 10th in the Road to Singapore leaderboard. She beat Ukraine's Elina Svitolina 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 on a day when Carla Suarez Navarro (eighth) was taken out 3-6, 4-6 by American Venus Williams.
Venus will next face qualifier Johanna Konta in the quarter-finals. But it remains to be seen whether her sister will take to the courts again this year. Serena's coach Patrick Mouratoglou told ESPN that the 21-time Major singles champion was deeply disappointed after missing out on a calendar Grand Slam and has suggested that she should take a break till next year.
"She was two matches away from something really big, so it was very painful," said Mouratoglou of his charge, who has not played since losing to Italy's Roberta Vinci in the US Open semi-finals last month.
"Any loss is very painful for her, but this one even more than usual. So it just takes time to recover from it, and when the motivation comes back, which I don't doubt it will, then it will be time to start tournaments again."
Serena has already clinched the year-end world No. 1 ranking and is scheduled to play in the China Open and the WTA Finals.
"After this year and the three Grand Slams, the question is how high her motivation is to play those tournaments. I don't think she should play if the motivation is not really high," Mouratoglou said in a posting on ESPN's website.
Sharapova's withdrawal from the China Open with a left forearm injury has also left a question mark over whether the Russian will be fit to play in Singapore.
World No. 2 Simon Halep is the third player who has already qualified for Singapore.
WTA WUHAN OPEN
Q-finals 3 & 4: StarHub Ch203, 6.30pm