As Agnieszka Radwanska’s coach Tomasz Wiktorowski put it, starting the year ranked 28 in the world will be an “unusual” situation for the Polish perennial top-tenner.
Injuries and illness have hampered Radwanska in 2017, with foot problems bothering her since May and a virus disrupting her Asian swing.
The result was a forgettable season which saw her compile a 25-18 win-loss record, and drop from No. 3 in the world to just inside the top-30.
It’s the first time since 2010 Radwanska has ended the year outside the top-eight.
“Definitely a very difficult year. I’ve been struggling with a couple of injuries, a couple of viruses as well on the way. It was really hard being without preparation before every Grand Slam pretty much,” Radwanska told Sport360 during her preseason training stint in Dubai last week.
Johanna Konta has appointed Michael Joyce as her new coach.
The British number one has been looking for a replacement for Wim Fissette since they parted company in October and has turned to the 44-year-old, who used to coach Maria Sharapova.
Joyce will be in Konta’s camp for the first tournament of the new season in Brisbane, starting on January 1.
“Michael is a fantastic coach with a great pedigree and I’m really excited to work with him,” she announced on Wednesday.
“2017 has been amazing but I feel like there is so much more to come. Our first tournament together will be the Brisbane International and the plan is for Michael to travel with me full-time through 2018.”
Konta ended her partnership with Fissette after a disappointing end to what had been an impressive 2017. She won her biggest singles title of her career in Miami and followed that up with a run to the Wimbledon semi-final, which sent her to number four in the world.
But that proved the high point of her campaign and a poor run of form in the autumn saw her part ways with Fissette in October.
After a lengthy recruitment process she has now appointed Joyce, who worked with Sharapova for seven years between 2004 and 2011 and helped the Russian to two grand slam titles and the world number one ranking.
The American, whose highest rank as a player was 64 in 1996, has most recently worked with another former world number one Victoria Azarenka.
Konta has retained Gill Myburgh as her strength and conditioning coach, Milly Mirkovic as her physio and Elena Sosa as her mental coach.
The American, seeded third in the tournament, was beaten by the Latvian fifth seed in two straight sets 7-5, 6-3 in one hour and 28 minutes at the Hengqin International Tennis Centre.
Stephens, 24, was a first-round loser at the Wuhan Open and the China Open in Beijing before pulling out of Hong Kong, but insisted Monday she wasn’t feeling under pressure.
“I don’t think I played terribly,” she said of Wednesday’s match.
“I was happy to be playing better than my last matches, so that’s a good thing.”
French top seed Kristina Mladenovic was also defeated Wednesday by Slovakia’s number one Magdalena Rybarikova 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (5), in a tight match that saw Rybarikova squander six match points before finally sealing her victory.
Twenty-four-year-old Mladenovic, ranked at a career-high number 10, still has a chance to qualify for the semis but Rybarikova was confirmed out late Wednesday given the round robin format.
“(There were) ups and downs from my side, but… there’s a lot of things to take out from this match, lots of positives,” said Mladenovic, who is now on an 11-match losing streak.
But her first-match loss in Zhuhai also follows a recent poor run, including an upset by Croatian Jana Fett at the Japan Women’s Open in September, where she was again top seed.
Earlier in the season she reached the semi-finals at Indian Wells — a result which saw her break into the world top 20 for the first time, temporarily overtaking Caroline Garcia as French number one.
“(It was) a pretty unique season,” she said.
“The second part is dramatic, is terrible. The first part is also dramatic but in a positive way.”
Despite “the tricky journey”, the French number two said she had improved a lot.
Separately, the tournament’s youngest player and ninth seed Ashleigh Barty cruised to victory over Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in just one hour and 11 minutes, firing nine aces for a 6-4, 6-1 triumph.
The 21-year-old, who began the year ranked outside the top 300, made the final in Wuhan and recently became Australia’s top player.
“I feel like I’m playing really well this whole year,” she told media, adding that she wants to finish “strong”.
On Thursday she faces German Angelique Kerber who she met in Brisbane at the start of the season. Kerber, then world number one, survived a big scare from the Australian wildcard entry.
“I think I’m in a bit of a different position than I was in January when we played against each other,” Barty, now ranked 20 in the world, said.