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Errani wins opener at inaugural Wuhan Open

WUHAN, China (AP) — Sara Errani reeled off the last six games of the match against Heather Watson of Britain to advance to the second round of the inaugural Wuhan Open with a 7-5, 6-4 victory Monday.

After dropping the opening set, Watson came back to take 19 of the first 22 points of the second set to race out to a 4-0 lead. But the 11th-seeded Errani broke Watson’s serve three times to close out the match in temperatures hovering around 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit).

“It was a really tough match. It was very hot today and she was playing very well,” the Italian player said. “Very good forehand, very good serve — it wasn’t easy for me, but I’m happy I could win the match.”

Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, the No. 12 seed, retired with a left ankle injury in the opening game of the third set after splitting the first two sets against American Madison Keys, 4-6, 6-3.

In other matches, Australian qualifier Jarmila Gajdosova defeated 15th-seeded Flavia Pennetta of Italy 6-1, 6-4, and Germany’s Sabine Lisicki, a winner two weeks ago in Hong Kong, continued her good form with a 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 win over 14th-seeded Lucie Safarova.

Almost all the WTA’s top 20 players are in Wuhan, with the notable exception of hometown player Li Na, who announced her retirement last week on the eve of the tournament.

The strength of the field and the more than $2 million on offer in prize money — equivalent to other large WTA tournaments in Cincinnati, Rome and Montreal — reflect the importance the women’s tour continues to place on the booming Asian tennis market.

Wuhan is one of three new WTA-level tournaments added in China this year, along with Hong Kong and Tianjin. The newcomers bring the total number of tournaments in China to six — behind only the United States, which has eight.

The season-ending WTA Championship was also moved this year to Singapore through 2018.

All the additions mean that the elite players are spending a considerable amount of time in Asia in coming months — a fact not lost on an already weary-sounding Serena Williams.

“It’s a very long Asian schedule for me,” Williams said Monday in Wuhan. “I’m still trying to figure it out between this week and next week (at the China Open in Beijing) and then two open weeks and then the Championships. So it’s going to be a little tricky, but I’m going to try to figure it out.”

Maria Sharapova, who was due to play her opening match later Monday against fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, credited the success of two-time major winner Li and her massive appeal in China for the WTA’s push into Asia in recent years. The 32-year-old Li was aiming for a comeback at Wuhan but said a fourth operation on her knees was too much, and forced her into retirement.

“I think she was one of the biggest reasons why there is such an international tournament in Wuhan. She brought all of us here, so I think it’s a little extra sad that she won’t be participating this year,” Sharapova said.

Also scheduled to play their opening matches Monday were No. 9 seed Ana Ivanovic, fresh off a win at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo on Sunday, and China’s Peng Shuai, who reached her first Grand Slam singles semifinal at the U.S. Open this year.

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