The OEC Taipei WTA Ladies Open starts tomorrow, with Japan’s Ayumi Morita back to defend her singles title and the hopes of Taiwanese tennis fans resting mainly on the shoulders of Chang Kai-chen.
Morita will be looking to end the year on a high following an injury-hit 12 months since she lifted the trophy at the Taipei Arena in November last year. Problems with her right shoulder and lower back have seen the 22-year-old’s ranking tumble to 74 from a career-high of 40 in October last year, but she has a good record in the tournament, having reached the last three finals.
Chang returns to her home tournament in excellent form, having reached her first WTA tour final earlier this month in Osaka, Japan, where she lost a hard-fought encounter against rising British star Heather Watson to finish as runner-up.
The 21-year-old plays world No. 216 Luksika Kumkhum from Thailand in the first round at the Taipei Arena.
Another player to keep an eye on is top seed and world No. 40 Peng Shuai of China, who won the title in 2010. Her victory in Taipei was the prelude to a superb run of form that saw her claim an Asian Games gold medal in Guangzhou before making the fourth round at three of last year’s Grand Slams and reaching a career-high of No. 14 in the world.
First up for Peng is Zarina Diyas from Kazakhstan, who despite her lowly ranking of 352, has a victory against former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic under her belt. The 19-year-old also made the quarter-finals of the WTA event in Prague in 2009 when she was only 15.
This year’s Taipei Ladies Open is the first of the new WTA Challenger Series, one tier above ITF Women’s Circuit events. Total prize money has risen from US$100,000 to US$125,000 and more ranking points are up for grabs than in previous years.
One notable absentee from the field is Taiwanese No. 1 Hsieh Su-wei, who will be competing at the Qatar Airways Tournament of Champions Sofia, which starts in the Bulgarian capital on Tuesday.
Hsieh earned her place at the US$750,000 end-of-season event by winning two WTA titles this year, and joins Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki in an eight-woman field.