The main draw of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships kicks off on Monday and there are a number of intriguing ties to sink your teeth into at the Aviation Club.
Below, Reem Abulleil analyses three of the top match-ups between players who have very rarely, if ever, met in a WTA tournament before.
Two players with contrasting styles who have never faced off before. Osaka hits a big ball that can cause some serious damage on the fast courts of Dubai while Mladenovic is more about finesse than power. Mladenovic finally ended her 15-match losing streak by making the final in St. Petersburg and as a resident in the Emirates, should be familiar with the conditions here.
Verdict: Mladenovic in two.
Their only previous meeting came in the Beijing last-16 last year, where Kasatkina triumphed in three close sets. A match that will have lots of variety from two players who possess great skill. Radwanska is a former Dubai champion while Kasatkina has played just one match here, a first round loss to Caroline Wozniacki in 2017.
Verdict: Radwanska in three.
A first meeting between the pair. Konta is making her Dubai debut while Pavlyuchenkova is making her eighth appearance. The Brit showed signs of her fierce form in Doha last week, where she avenged her Australian Open shock defeat to Bernarda Pera before easing past Carla Suarez Navarro. Pavlyuchenkova has won just one match this season.
Verdict: Konta in two.
The Australian open runner-up, who progressed through to the semi-finals of the Qatar Total Open on Friday, announced after her victory against CiCi Bellis that she would not be able to complete the tournament nor compete in the UAE.
The Romanian cited a foot issue as the reason why – an MRI showed fluid and tendinitis – and revealed she will not play again until at least Indian Wells, which begins in early March.
“I am surprised that I could play three matches and to win them. I felt pain every day, so it was not easy to manage it,” Halep, who had initially accepted a wildcard for Dubai, told a press conference in Doha. “I didn’t have much time to recover before this tournament, but today was too much, and I decided to stop.”
— WTA (@WTA) February 16, 2018
Simona Halep is withdrawing from #QatarTotalOpen due to her foot injury. MRI reveals fluid and tendinitis. Won’t play again until Indian Wells.
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) February 16, 2018
French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko has joined the stellar line-up that will battle for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title later this month, adding her name to a star-studded field that includes a further seven of the world’s top 10 and three other reigning or former Grand Slam winners.
In 2017, the Latvian became the first player from her country to win a Grand Slam title and, ranked 47 at the time, the first unseeded woman to win at Roland Garros since 1933.
The 2014 Wimbledon junior champion has since gone from strength to strength and firmly established herself as a member of the world’s top 10.
“It was a great surprise to everyone when Jelena Ostapenko won the French Open last year, defeating former Dubai champion Caroline Wozniacki before crowning her spectacular two weeks with victory over world number four Simona Halep in the final,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free.
“She has made fantastic progress since her first visit to Dubai in 2016 when she was beaten in the qualifying rounds, and we look forward to seeing how she fares this month against what is a world-class field of other top achievers.”
Ostapenko not only claimed her first Grand Slam title in 2017, but during the best season of her career so far she added a title in Seoul. She was also the runner-up in Charleston, a semi-finalist four times and a quarter-finalist in Acapulco and at Wimbledon, where she defeated reigning Dubai champion Elina Svitolina. She also claimed a victory over Wimbledon winner and world number one Garbine Muguruza in Wuhan.
All that success meant that a year after ending the season ranked 44, she qualified for the elite player field at the WTA Finals in Singapore, featuring the top eight players in the world.
At the end of December she beat Serena Williams in an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi in what was the American’s first match since giving birth but has struggled in the early days of this season, losing in the first round in both Shenzhen and Sydney and the third round of the Australian Open before recovering to reach the quarter-finals in St. Petersburg.
“Jelena Ostapenko has now established herself as one of the very best players in the world, and when she arrives here she will be determined to improve on her modest start to the season,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. ”
Although she faces formidable opposition in the form of so many other champions she has clearly demonstrated that she belongs among the favourites for the title.”
Exactly one week to go before the much-awaited @DDFTennis Championships! Don’t miss out on the action as their raise their game to win the Dubai title starting off with the women’s week with 7 of the top 10 WTA players! Get your tickets now at the tennis box office. pic.twitter.com/Yk3sKQnHVS
— Dubai Duty Free (@DubaiDutyFree) February 13, 2018
Ostapenko joining the field brings the number of top ten players contesting the prestigious Dubai title to eight, in a line-up which includes four Grand Slam champions, and four former world number ones.
Among those she faces are reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, 2018 Shenzhen champion, Australian Open finalist and world number two Simona Halep, defending Dubai champion and recent Brisbane winner Elina Svitolina, 2018 Sydney champion and Australian Open semi-finalist Angelique Kerber, 2016 US Open finalist and former world number one Karolina Pliskova and 2018 Auckland champion Julia Goerges.
The tournament begins with the WTA event that takes place between February 19-24.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free, and held under the patronage of H. H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Grandstand ticket prices for the WTA event start at AED55 for opening rounds to AED735 for the ATP finals, with daily Prime A and Prime B tickets and season tickets also available. (All inclusive of VAT).
Tickets are on sale online, and from the Box Office, which is open 9am-9pm daily. For ticket sales go to http://www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com/en/tickets and for further information about the tournament visit: www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com.