2018 Zhuhai champion Ashleigh Barty soared to the highest of heights in 2019, winning Roland Garros and rising to No.1. Who else has experienced the Zhuhai spark? WTA Insider breaks it down.
WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen
September 25, 2019

The Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai is less than four weeks away and the qualifying chase is coming down to the wire. The fifth edition of the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai begins on October 22nd and features a 12-player singles field made up of players ranked No.9 through No.19 in the world, along with one wildcard. In the event of pre-tournament injury withdrawals, the next highest-ranked player will qualify until a full field is set.

Played in a round-robin format, an undefeated champion in Zhuhai can earn up to 700 points. By comparison, a Premier Mandatory champion earns 1000 points, a Premier 5 champion earns 900 points, and a Premier champion earns 470 points.?

Here's how the qualifying race is shaping up with four weeks left in the regular season:

No.9 Elina Svitolina
No.10 Kiki Bertens
No.11 Johanna Konta
No.12 Sofia Kenin
No.13 Madison Keys
No.14 Marketa Vondrousova
No.15 Angelique Kerber
No.16 Petra Martic
No.17 Donna Vekic
No.18 Elise Mertens
No.19 Aryna Sabalenka
No.20 Maria Sakkari

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No.21 Amanda Anisimova
No.22 Anett Kontaveit
No.23 Sloane Stephens
No.24 Anastasija Sevastova
No.25 Hsieh Su-Wei
No.26 Alison Riske
No.27 Danielle Collins
No.28 Karolina Muchova
No.29 Barbora Strycova
No.30 Wang Qiang

"I think for me it was the most perfect way to cap off my best year yet, it really was."
2018 Champion Ashleigh Barty

Zhuhai has served as the perfect launching pad for subsequent success. For proof, look no further than last year's champion Ashleigh Barty, who finished her season by winning the biggest title of her career and went on to soar in 2019.?

Coming off her Zhuhai title, Barty went on to make her first major quarterfinal at the Australian Open, win the biggest titles of her career at the Miami Open and Roland Garros, and becoming the first Australian woman since Evonne Goolagong Cawley to ascend to the World No.1 ranking.?

"I think for me it was the most perfect way to cap off my best year yet, it really was," Barty said at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open.?

"I've played well both years I've been in Zhuhai. It's been a great way to finish off my year. Now looking forward to having taken that next step, to be in Shenzhen in the finals is really cool."

The 23-year-old became the first player to qualify for the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen after the US Open, with World No.2 Karolina Pliskova becoming the second to book her Shenzhen slot.?

2015 Champion Venus Williams and runner-up Karolina Pliskova (Getty Images).

Pliskova is another player whose elite roots can be traced back to Zhuhai. The Czech was a finalist in the inaugural edition in 2015, losing to Venus Williams. Pliskova went on to make her Top 10 debut the following season, win the biggest title of her career at the Western & Southern Open, make her first major final at the 2016 US Open, and qualify for her first WTA Finals. One year later she would become the first player representing the Czech Republic to hold the No.1 ranking.?

In all, of the eight women who made the finals of the last four editions, five went on to make their Top 10 debuts within 12 months:

Karolina Pliskova, 2015 finalist
Elina Svitolina, 2016 finalist
Julia Goerges, 2017 champion
CoCo Vandeweghe, 2017 finalist
Ashleigh Barty, 2018 champion

In addition, last year’s finalist Qiang Wang reached a career-high ranking of No.12 this season and made her first major quarterfinal at the US Open, where she defeated Barty in the Round of 16.

2016 Champion Petra Kvitova and runner-up Elina Svitolina (Getty Images).

Zhuhai has also been a fruitful venue for the tour's great champions to bounce back from a prolonged slump. For 2015 champion Venus Williams, the event remains her biggest title since 2015 Wuhan and the American legend enjoyed a resurgent season in 2017, where she made two major finals at the Australian Open and Wimbledon and qualified for her first WTA Finals since 2009, finishing the year at No.5.

2016 champion Petra Kvitova finished that season ranked No.11 and said despite the hand injury that followed in the off-season due to a violent attack in her home, she continued to build on the confidence gained from her 2016 finish to enjoy two of the best seasons of her career in 2018, where she returned to the Top 10, capturing a tour-best five titles that year.

"It's a very interesting group draw. I think it's little like a small preparation for the WTA Finals."
2018 WTA Finals Champion Elina Svitolina

World No.3 and reigning WTA Finals champion Elina Svitolina found the round-robin event prepared her well for the WTA Finals. Svitolina played the event twice, making the semifinals in 2015 and the final in 2016, where she lost to Petra Kvitova. The Ukrainian followed up her 2016 final by making her Top 10 debut the following season and becoming the first player to win three Premier 5 events in a single season (2017 Dubai, 2017 Rome, 2017 Toronto).

"I really enjoyed playing it. It's just like other big events that you want to play well. It's a very interesting group draw. I think it's little like a small preparation for the WTA Finals. It was at that time.

"I think definitely it gave me the small step and small push towards where I was going."