Caroline Garcia will leave Wuhan, China, earlier than she did last year. She will go to Beijing and prepare for that tournament after her Tuesday exit at the hands of Katerina Siniakova in three tough sets.
(Side note: Siniakova winning a complicated, long, three-set match is par for the course with her. Credit to her for continuing to win these difficult and tangled tussles. That is no small thing.)
Garcia will lose a large stack of points, and with Beijing also holding a huge pile of points, the pressure on Garcia to deliver (much as Grigor Dimitrov must do something special in October) is profound.
Yet, this story about Garcia does not revolve around her ranking-points crisis. That is something everyone can see in the WTA’s Asian swing.
What is even more noticeable is how emblematic Garcia is of the Wuhan Open itself. In yet another Asian swing, Wuhan is wide open. What Garcia did last year is likely to be replicated by another player this year, someone who comes out of the shadows to pluck a Premier 5 title and elicit questions — good questions, but questions nonetheless — about the possibilities of the following season.
It is easy enough to grasp the concept: Last year, Garcia came out of nowhere to win Wuhan and Beijing, qualify for the WTA Finals in Singapore, make the semifinals, and raise hopes for her 2018 season. The reality of raised hopes does not mean that a player’s rise up the ranks is guaranteed; Garcia needed to prove she belonged at a higher tier of the sport. Yet, when a player wins a significant title — a Premier 5 and a Premier Mandatory both qualify — it is impossible not to wonder if the athlete has just raised her ceiling.
We know that Garcia hit her head on a very low ceiling in 2018, and if she loses early in Beijing, her ranking will continue to tumble… but again, Garcia in microcosm is not the focus here.
The focus is on how Wuhan is setting up, in 2018, yet another Garcia-like story.
It is a story which must be approached with caution.
Tuesday’s play has been completed in Wuhan. The tournament is still relatively young, and yet only three of the top 12 seeds remain: (2) Caroline Wozniacki, (3) Angelique Kerber, and (5) Petra Kvitova.
Within the context of the 2018 WTA season, this is not much of a deviation. Recall the carnage at Wimbledon most of all, and at the U.S. Open as well. Seeds are just numbers these days on the WTA Tour, where the quality of depth and depth of quality are both conspicuously high. There are few easy draws, and good luck trying to navigate big tournaments in consecutive weeks, as is the case in Wuhan and Beijing, or Canada and Cincinnati, or Madrid and Rome. This is not a tour built for players to dominate. This is why Simona Halep’s large collection of semifinals in 2018 is so impressive.
Speaking of Halep, though, her back injury hurt her against Dominika Cibulkova on Tuesday. Halep lost, giving her a chance to heal before Beijing. Halep nevertheless joins (4) Garcia, (6) Elina Svitolina, (7) Naomi Osaka (pulled out before the tournament), (8) Karolina Pliskova, (9) Sloane Stephens, (10) Jelena Ostapenko, (11) Julia Goerges, and (12) Kiki Bertens (done in by a terrible scheduling setup which denied her a day off after the Seoul final and forced her to play matches on consecutive days in Wuhan) as early-round victims at the Wuhan Open.
Chaos has already coursed through the brackets. With Kerber and Kvitova in the same quarter, there are sure to be two semifinalists outside the top 12 seeds. Unless Wozniacki can move through the bottom half of the draw, the final will have at least one player outside the top 12 seeds.
Let’s say, as a hypothetical, that Wozniacki does not make the final. A player will make a Premier 5 final and gain a substantial amount of points. If Kvitova and Kerber lose before the final (and one of them is guaranteed to do so), the championship match in Wuhan will, like Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, involve a player outside the top 10 at the time.
Last year, Caroline Garcia and Ashleigh Barty made the Wuhan final as unseeded players. We all wondered where they would be a year from now, Garcia in particular.
One year later has arrived. Now, a new Garcia — not her, but someone traveling the path she followed in late 2017 — could be on the verge of emerging in Wuhan.
Garcia is on her way to Beijing, but her presence will continue to be felt in Wuhan — the rest of this week, yes, but also into 2019. Her story will be talked about if the 2018 Wuhan champion is not one of the three high seeds which remain in the tournament.