Make or break for Li at China Open
Li Na is banking on a strong performance at the China Open to reach this season's grand finale – but she'll face tough competition from Maria Sharapova in a star-studded field with Serena Williams a late withdrawal.
Asia's top women's player has been a picture of inconsistency since winning the French Open last year, highlighted by last month's triumph in Cincinnati, which was followed by a third-round exit at the US Open two weeks later.
A last-16 defeat to Caroline Wozniacki at the Pan Pacific Open has left Li struggling to hang on to her eighth position in the race to reach October's WTA Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, featuring the season's top eight players.
"I'm now No 8, so it's very tough. Right now I don't know," said Li in Tokyo, when asked if she thought she would make it to Istanbul. "I think it will be decided after Beijing."
"I wish I can be in the championships, but I lost today, so the only chance is that I have to do well next week in Beijing," added the 30-year-old, who is yet to win the title in Beijing in front of her home fans.
Sharapova and world No 1 Victoria Azarenka travel to the Chinese capital with their places in Istanbul assured, on the back of a season when they have stamped their authority on women's tennis along with America's Williams.
The late withdrawal of the 2004 champion because of flu is a blow to organisers coming in a year when she has confirmed her place among the tennis greats by winning the Wimbledon, Olympic and US Open titles, raising her Grand Slam haul to 15.
Sharapova, the photogenic world No 2 from Russia, won her first Grand Slam title in four years at Roland Garros, while top-ranked Azarenka has claimed four trophies this year, including the Australian Open.
However, there are question marks over Azarenka's fitness after she pulled out of the Pan Pacific Open at the quarterfinal stage, citing fatigue.
World No 3 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland is defending her title after becoming the fourth player to qualify for the WTA finals.
"This is a goal for every player at the start of the season and I'm so happy to have made it," she said of the $4.9 million season climax.
And former world No 1 Wozniacki will be hoping to extend her recent revival, which included a first WTA title in more than 12 months in Seoul this month, by repeating her 2010 success in Beijing.