Yara Al-Hogbani’s impressive run at the Nairobi International Tennis Championship ended in illness

Eight of the world’s top 10 WTA players set for Dubai Duty Free Tennis from Monday

DUBAI: An exciting week of tennis awaits fans in Dubai with eight of the world’s top 10 WTA Tour players ready to battle at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium from Monday.

Here are some of the main storylines to watch this week in the emirate.

The loaded draw includes successful early spins

In one of the most stacked WTA draws in tournament history, four former Dubai champions and eight Grand Slam winners will face off at the Aviation Club this year.

Ashleigh Barty and Karolina Pliskova being the only two top 10 players absent from the action in Dubai, world number 2 Aryna Sabalenka headlines a stellar field.

Such is the strength and depth of the women’s draw this year that defending champion and No. 4 seed Garbine Muguruza will face world No. 11 and recent Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins in the first round.

In another tantalizing opening clash, two Grand Slam champions will face off in the form of Sofia Kenin and Jelena Ostapenko.

Former French Open winner Iga Swiatek, seeded No. 6, will start her campaign against world No. 21 Daria Kasatkina, who was runner-up in Dubai in 2018.

Two of the top 20 Americans, Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula, will meet in another thrilling first round as 2013 Dubai champion Petra Kvitova opens against defending Canadian Open champion Camila Giorgi.

Difficult path for the defending champion

If Muguruza plans to defend her title in Dubai this week, she will have to do it the hard way. If Spain’s two-time Grand Slam winner were to overtake Collins in the first round, she could get former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, with an in-form Anett Kontaveit possibly waiting for her in the quarter-finals.

World No. 3 Barbora Krejcikova, who lost to Muguruza in the Dubai final last year, or No. 5 seed Maria Sakkari are potential semi-final opponents for the Spaniard.

The good news for Muguruza is that she seems in a relaxed and cheerful mood as she prepares for the tournament enjoying a fun expedition in the Dubai desert with her team ahead of the weekend.

Halep flying solo

Two-time Dubai champion and former world number one Simona Halep will be competing in her first tournament without a coach, having parted ways with Daniel Dobre and Adrian Marcu following her fourth-round exit from the Australian Open last month.

The Romanian takes on American Alison Riske in the first round ahead of a possible round of 16 encounter with No. 3 seed Paula Badosa.

Halep, who spent six years working with Australian Darren Cahill until September last year, says she is looking to enjoy the freedom of being without a coach at the moment and only travels ‘with a hitting partner at the moment.

Collins keen to build on Australian Open success

After a maiden Grand Slam final appearance in Melbourne last month, Collins is ready to look ahead to the rest of the season, which begins with a brutal opening date with Muguruza.

It’s a challenge the 28-year-old American looks forward to, especially knowing she edged Muguruza in three sets when they last met on tour (they are 1-1 head to head on aggregate).

“I think in these tournaments, with smaller draws, you’re always going to be up against a tough opponent regardless of their seeding, especially with the depth we have at all levels,” Collins said on Saturday.

“Playing Garbine in the first round, I think it’s going to be a great game. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun there. What better preparation for the rest of the year to be able to start a tournament playing against such an accomplished opponent? »

The Arab duo seeks to shine

Two Arab women feature in the main draw this week with Tunisia’s No. 8 seed Ons Jabeur and Egypt’s Mayar Sherif getting a wildcard.

Jabeur, who has played brilliant matches in the Middle East in the past, will face Russian veteran Vera Zvonareva in the first round, while Sherif will make his tournament debut against Estonian No.7 seed Kontaveit.

“It is very important for us to support Arab tennis. The UAE also has a great relationship with Egypt, so it’s important for us to have that kind of connection and cooperation with Egypt,” tournament director Salah Tahlak said during the meeting. draw ceremony on Saturday.

“Having Mayar Sherif and Ons Jabeur in the draw gives a great Arabian flavor to our tournament.”

Jabeur, who is the first Arab player in history to be ranked in the top 10, is coming back from a back injury that forced her to miss the Australian Open last month.

Crowds return to DDF Tennis Stadium

After taking place behind closed doors last year due to the pandemic, the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships will be 100 per cent open to fans this fortnight, thanks to a new government directive.

“I’m really excited for the start of this tournament,” said two-time Dubai champion Elina Svitolina on Saturday.

“I always look forward to returning to these grounds. I have amazing memories of playing a few semi-finals here and winning twice in a row is definitely very special.

“It was my first time breaking into the top 10 when I won here in 2017 so it’s really special for me. Playing in front of a lot of fans who come to Dubai is always great.”

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