The first big clay event on the WTA calendar kicks off in Stuttgart this week with a loading field featuring the Top 5 in the world led by World No. 1 Naomi Osaka who makes her debut as a Grand Slam champion on the slippery surface.
The Japanese, who is the youngest in the field at 21, will be joined by some serious opposition with former champions Karolina Pliskova and Angelique Kerber plus Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova and unseeded threats like Jelena Ostapenko, Caroline Garcia and Garbine Muguruza who meets Victoria Azarenka in the first round.
Elise Mertens, Dominika Cibulkova and Belinda Bencic are also unseeded at this Premier level event.
Osaka, who has never won a match at the event, could have to face the dangerous Su-Wei Hsieh in her opener, then Kerber in the quarters before Pliskova in the semifinals.
Maria Sharapova, Sloane Stephens, Danielle Collins and Elina Svitolina were among the withdrawals.
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