Wuhan Open welcomes global greats

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Once again, the world's best female players will be showcased at Optics Valley International Tennis Center in Wuhan, Hubei province, from Sept 21-29.

The star-studded main draw for the fifth edition of the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open features 19 of the WTA's top 20, competing for a total prize pool of $2.7 million. The lineup includes 10 Grand Slam singles champions who have combined to win 21 major titles.

Leading the charge will be Romanian world No 1 Simona Halep, who captured this year's French Open, reigning Australian Open champ Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and Germany's Angelique Kerber, who won at Wimbledon in July.

World No 4 Caroline Garcia of France, who triumphed at last year's Wuhan Open, will be back to defend her crown.

"We're very proud to provide such an important showcase for the world's very best and believe that the caliber of players we attract shows how much the tournament has grown and flourished over its five years," said tournament co-director Fabrice Chouquet.

"Chinese fans are falling in love with tennis, thanks to events like ours and the incredible players who come to compete in Wuhan."

Of all the Grand Slam champions in the spotlight, newly-crowned US Open winner Naomi Osaka is sure to stand out. The 20-year-old captured the title at Flushing Meadows, New York, two weeks ago by defeating her childhood idol Serena Williams to become the first Japanese woman to win a Grand Slam.

Osaka's triumph was overshadowed by a spat between Williams and the chair umpire that resulted in the American legend being penalized a game.

"The fact that all four of this year's Grand Slam champions are competing in Wuhan underlines the tournament's quality from the players' perspective," said tournament co-director Zhu Jianbin.

The 32-player qualifying draw is headed by former US Open champion Samantha Stosur, Rio 2016 Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig, former world No 2 Agnieszka Radwanska, former world No 8 Ekaterina Makarova and former world No 9 Andrea Petkovic.

"You know how strong your main draw is when you have Grand Slam champions and Olympians ready to go through qualifying to get into it," said Chouquet.

"That's such a healthy sign for the tournament and it's wonderful for the fans to be able to see these amazing players in qualifying action over the first weekend of the event."

Surprise ahead

Although Chinese legend Li Na, who won the 2011 French Open and 2014 Australian Open, is officially retired, the Wuhan native still serves as a global ambassador for the tournament.

Last year, the 36-year-old teamed up with Indian doubles ace Sania Mirza to prepare a feast of traditional noodles in the city's downtown core to promote local culture and give fans an opportunity to interact with some of the biggest names in the game.

"We have prepared another huge surprise for fans this year," Li said. "But to find out what it is, you have to be there!"

Organizers have planned a series of events to spotlight the tournament, including launching a Wuhan Open-themed tram to provide free transportation to the venues for spectators with tickets.

Judy Murray, mother of multiple Grand Slam winner Andy Murray, is also partnering with the WTA to hold a junior community workshop called "Come Play Against Judy Murray", and Li will participate in many grassroots promotional activities.

"Wuhan is my hometown where I started my tennis career," said Li. "Although I'm not a professional player anymore, I'm still so happy to see all my old friends competing.

"I'm also grateful that people in my hometown can see the world's best players playing in Wuhan, which was my dream when I was a young girl."

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