World number three Elina Svitolina answers the call as Sloane Stephens joins Hong Kong Tennis Open withdrawals
Organisers scramble to keep field at a high standard as injuries blamed for pull-outs by US Open champion Stephens and others
The Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open has lost the US Open champion but gained the world number three.
Elina Svitolina will make her debut at next week’s tournament, as US Open winner Sloane Stephens became the latest star to withdraw, citing a left knee problem.
Stephens’ withdrawal comes on top of British star Johanna Konta (world No 7) and France’s Kristina Mladenovic (No 14). Mladenovic blamed a knee injury, while a badly out-of-form Konta was said to have pulled out as a precaution with a foot problem.
Svitolina, 23, will now be the top seed at the US$500,000 WTA International Series event, which starts on Monday at Victoria Park.
The Ukrainian joins other leading lights Venus Williams (world No 5), Caroline Wozniacki (No 6) and Agnieszka Radwanska (No 11).
World number 20 Elena Vesnina, who captured this year’s Indian Wells singles title and the Wimbledon doubles crown with Ekaterina Makarova, will also be making her Hong Kong debut.
Since winning her first grand slam, Stephens has had a horror run, losing in the first round in the Wuhan Open last week and then again crashing out in the first round of the China Open in Beijing this week – to qualifier Christina McHale
World No 17 Stephens said at the time, with no mention of injury: “I’ll just forget about it and move on, try to have a better level for the next tournament [Hong Kong].”
Tournament director Chris Lai said getting Svitolina at the last minute was a “testament” to the reputation the Open is building in its short history.
“While it is unfortunate withdrawals due to injury become more common at the end of the season, we have an exceptional field for our event that is rare to see on tour at this level,” Lai said.
“Having eight of the world’s top 26 players, including three of only six players qualified for the WTA Finals in our line-up will guarantee thrilling competition.”
Svitolina, Wozniacki and Williams have already qualified for the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore.
Svitolina has been one of the stand-out players of the 2017 season, highlighted by her WTA leading five titles this year in Taipei, Dubai, Istanbul, Rome and Toronto.
She has four career wins over reigning world number one players, including a win over Serena Williams at 2016 Rio Olympics.
Former number one Wozniacki, who is a regular visitor to Hong Kong, defended her Pan Pacific title in Tokyo two weeks week and has reached six other finals this year.
Others vying for the title in Hong Kong next week will be world number 26 Zhang Shuai, who won the Guangzhou Open two weeks ago, former US Open champion Samantha Stosur, world number 21 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, world number 22 Daria Gavrilova, rising Japanese star Naomi Osaka, Chinese number three Wang Qiang and 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard.
Open organisers are offering free admission to all matches on Monday.