Newly-crowned US Open champion Sloane Stephens will take on Qiang Wang of China in the first round of the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open in what will be the American’s first competitive match since lifting the trophy at Flushing Meadows earlier this month.
Stephens has not played since winning her home Grand Slam.
The 24-year-old arrived in Wuhan on Friday and will play her opening match on either Sunday or Monday at the US$2,666,000 WTA Premier 5 event.
Friday’s official draw pitched defending Wuhan Open champion Petra Kvitova against China’s Shuai Peng in a match which could split the loyalties of local tennis fans in Wuhan. Kvitova, who also won the tournament in its inaugural year in 2014, is a huge favourite at the Optics Valley International Tennis Centre.
Elsewhere in the draw, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova takes on Alize Cornet; ninth seed Agnieszka Radwanska is up against Wimbledon semi-finalist Magdalena Rybarikova and China’s home hope Shuai Zhang takes on talented Croatian Donna Vekic.
In a battle of the young guns of women’s tennis, American Catherine Bellis takes on Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, with the winner to play fifth seed Johanna Konta in round two. Konta, as one of the top eight seeds, receives a bye into round two.
Madison Keys, who Stephens beat in an all-American final in New York, will face a qualifier in her opening match.
World No.1 Garbine Muguruza is top seed in Wuhan.
2017 DONGFENG MOTOR WUHAN OPEN – WUHAN, CHINA
22-30 September, 2017
 G. Muguruza (ESP) – Bye
C. Suárez Navarro (ESP) vs. L. Tsurenko (UKR)
Qualifier vs. A. Kontaveit (EST)
K. Siniakova (CZE) vs.  K. Mladenovic (FRA)
 P. Kvitova (CZE) vs. S. Peng (CHN)
Qualifier vs. M. Barthel (GER)
Qualifier vs. B. Strycova (CZE)
 J. Ostapenko (LAT) – Bye
 K. Pliskova (CZE) – Bye
S. Zhang (CHN) vs. D. Vekic (CRO)
[WC] Y. Wang (CHN) vs. S. Cirstea (ROU)
Q. Wang (CHN) vs.  S. Stephens (USA)
 A. Radwanska (POL) vs. M. Rybarikova (SVK)
D. Gavrilova (AUS) vs. J. Goerges (GER)
C. Bellis (USA) vs. A. Barty (AUS)
 J. Konta (GBR) – Bye
 S. Kuznetsova (RUS) – Bye
A. Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) vs. A. Cornet (FRA)
K. Bertens (NED) vs. Qualifier
Qualifier vs.  M. Keys (USA)
 E. Vesnina (RUS) vs. [WC] Y. Duan (CHN)
E. Mertens (BEL) vs. N. Osaka (JPN)
Qualifier vs. Y. Putintseva (KAZ)
 C. Wozniacki (DEN) – Bye
 D. Cibulkova (SVK) – Bye
S. Stosur (AUS) vs. [WC] J. Teichmann (SUI)
Qualifier vs. R. Vinci (ITA)
C. Garcia (FRA) vs.  A. Kerber (GER)
 A. Sevastova (LAT) vs. E. Makarova (RUS)
Qualifier vs. L. Davis (USA)
D. Kasatkina (RUS) vs. A. Riske (USA)
 S. Halep (ROU) – Bye
Rafael Nadal insists the newly-introduced Laver Cup is not an exhibition — albeit needing to confirm that fact with his fellow Team Europe members first — while Team World captain John McEnroe is hoping the event will force the ITF to rethink the current Davis Cup format and introduce necessary changes.
The Laver Cup, which can be described as tennis’ answer to golf’s Ryder Cup, kicked off in Prague on Friday with Marin Cilic claiming a straight-sets win over Team World’s Frances Tiafoe, is an idea conceived by Roger Federer and his management company Team8.
Nadal, the current world No. 1, headlines Team Europe alongside Federer and four other players, captained by Bjorn Borg, while McEnroe has six players from Australia, USA and Canada, representing Team World.
The tournament is not part of the ATP or ITF, and has no ranking points. Asked if it should be considered an exhibition, Nadal said: “No, is not an exhibition at all. No, no, I don’t think, no, guys?
“No, we are here to try our best, no? I wake up today since 4:00 in the morning to practice. An exhibition match, I don’t practice before an exhibition match normally, no.
“We are here to try our best. We are here to try to win. Not at all like a friendly match, no? We are here to really play with passion and to play for our continent, no?
“We have a great team behind us. We want to do it well for all of them. Let’s see if we are able to do it.”
McEnroe is very much behind the idea of the event, which is set to be staged annually. This year’s tournament has come just one week after the Davis Cup semi-finals and play-offs, which didn’t feature many of the top players, who have struggled to commit to the inter-nation competition for quite some time now.
Many, including top players, have voiced their opinions about changes necessary to evolve Davis Cup and ensure they can take part during what is undoubtedly a jam-packed tennis calendar.
“I like the idea of what we are seeing, you know, bringing the best of the best together. I think we are all excited and hopeful that this is going to be successful and force some people to take a good, hard look at the rest of the schedule, too, with Davis Cup, for example, you know, which is such a big commitment that they need to make some changes,” said McEnroe in Prague on Thursday.
“I think you guys have been around a long time, and so you know that I have had a lot of history with Davis Cup. But I believe that they have been very slow in doing anything different, and so maybe this will push it along.
“Hopefully they both can do well, but I like the idea of this event quite a bit. You know, I’m an outsider looking in, not playing, but you have to ask the players what they think. But I believe that this is something that hopefully will be something that will be a big boost for tennis. The Laver Cup, I think this could be an incredible thing.”
The inaugural Laver Cup is taking place in Prague from Friday September 22 to Sunday September 24.
More details on the competition format can be found here.
* Video footage courtesy of Laver Cup.
It’s no secret that John McEnroe has been one of Nick Kyrgios’ fiercest critics over the past few years so when the Aussie joined the Team World line-up, playing under captain McEnroe, some wondered how the pair would get along.
Last year, when Kyrgios retired injured from his US Open third round against Illya Marchenko, McEnroe said on ESPN: “Nick Kyrgios, if you don’t want to be a professional tennis player, do something else.”
The American legend also previously hit out at Kyrgios’ trick shots, saying: “He thinks he’s a vaudeville entertainer. I hope he learns from these bonehead moves… You don’t want to be remembered as a clown.”
After last year’s defeat to Andy Murray at Wimbledon, McEnroe said of Kyrgios: “He doesn’t understand what it takes to be someone who wins Grand Slams at this level and that is unfortunate.”
And when Kyrgios squandered a two-sets-to-love lead against Andreas Seppi at the Australian Open this year, McEnroe said: “What I don’t understand, what I can’t accept, is when he stops trying. It’s a black eye for the sport.”
But despite the history between the two, Kyrgios has lots of respect for the seven-time Grand Slam champion, and is happy to call him ‘captain’ during the Laver Cup this weekend in Prague.
“Obviously I know that the press kind of just take away what they wanna take away from what he says and that’s not completely what he’s saying all the time,” said Kyrgios when asked about McEnroe on Thursday.
“So all I know is he’s an unbelievable tennis player, he’s achieved a lot of things, and everything he says to me I know he says because he only really cares. I know he wants to win and he’s a great captain to play for.”
The Laver Cup commenced at 13:00 (Prague time, 15:00 Dubai time) on Friday with Francis Tiafoe of Team World, taking on Marin Cilic at the O2 Arena in the Czech capital.
Here’s a look at the team line-ups: