Wuhan - World number three Maria Sharapova
returns from injury at next week's Wuhan Open as she starts her build-up to the
WTA Finals season finale.
Sharapova last played at Wimbledon, where
she lost in the semi-finals to Serena Williams for the 17th time in succession.
The Russian subsequently pulled out of a WTA event in Toronto and the
Cincinnati Masters hoping to be ready for the US Open, but a persistent leg
injury kept her out of that one too.
"I've been working hard to get myself
ready to compete again and I can't wait to get back out," the five-time
Grand Slam champion said in a statement announcing her wild card entry to the
Sharapova is among a star-studded line-up
for the $2.4 million hard court event, which was only established last year on
the back of the success of China's two-time Grand Slam winner Li Na, who was
born and raised in Wuhan.
Twenty-eight-year-old Sharapova has already
booked her place in next month's WTA Championships in Singapore - which sees
the top eight players on tour fight for the final prize of the year.
But the field remains open for all but the
world's top three, and competition at the Wuhan Open is certain to be intense
with 18 of the top 20 players attending. Points are close amongst many of the
players, and a strong performance from down the ranks could shake up the line
up for Singapore.
Serena Williams is sitting the tournament
out and US Open winner Flavia Pennetta - whose surprise grand slam victory saw
her shoot up the rankings from 26 to 7 - withdrew at the last minute with a
Pennetta announced her retirement at the US
Open final, and could now only have one tournament left before she exits
But the Italian's appearance at the WTA
Finals could be jeopardy if any of the players who sit just below her in the
rankings - Germany's Angelique Kerber, Czech Karolina Pliskova or Spain's
Carla Suarez Navarro and Garbine Muguruza - make it to the quarter-finals or
beyond at Wuhan. The points they would earn could push Pennetta out of the top
Romanian Simona Halep enters as the
tournament's top seed, and double Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova is the third
seed. The Czech was diagnosed with glandular fever this year but has been given
the medical OK to compete.
Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki is seeded
fourth ahead of Muguruza and sixth seed Kerber. Suarez Navarro and Pliskova are
seventh and eighth.
All seeded players have a first round bye.
Retired Li will return to her hometown
Wuhan for the second instalment of the tournament and to open Sunday a new
15 000-capacity stadium, its mammoth capacity highlighting the rapid growth of
tennis in China.
Li retired from tennis last September on
the eve of the inaugural Wuhan Open - one of three WTA events in China added
to the calendar last year -- eight months after winning her second Grand Slam
title at the Australian Open.
She gave birth to a daughter Alisa in June.
The first round of the tournament began
Friday and will reach its climax on October 3.