Ten of the best to dazzle Dubai
More often than not, when an event claims to be the biggest or best, the news must be taken with a pinch of salt. But with this week's Dubai Tennis Championships hosting the top 10 in the world rankings and also being the only tournament in the Middle East to be recognised as a WTA Premier 5, it is hard to question organisers' claims that it is the "greatest tennis show in the Middle East".
And it is little surprise the event sold out weeks ago.
Outside of the four Majors, there are few events that can offer such a strong entry list. Both Williams sisters – who between them hold three of the four Grand Slam titles – will make a long-awaited appearance after failing to arrive at any of the past three years' $2 million (Dh7.34m) tennis tournaments. French Open champion Ana Ivanovic will also return and will be joined by her Serbian compatriot, and recently deposed former world No1, Jelena Jankovic.
The Russians will also be strong in number, with eight separate contenders making the trip to the emirate. Dinara Safina, widely recognised as the most improved player on the WTA Tour in the past 12 months, comes into the tournament as world No2 and fresh from appearing in her second Slam final in Melbourne. Reigning champion Elena Dementieva and fellow countrywoman Vera Zvonareva are also set to jet in after they finish competing in Paris and Pattaya respectively.
Outside the top 10, Amelie Mauresmo, winner of the Dubai Open in 2002, will return to the Aviation Club and Maria Kirilenko, who disappointed last year following success in the 2007 Dubai-based Habtoor Challenge, will look to improve.
One player who is not making the journey to the emirate is India's Sania Mirza. Despite a massive following in the UAE, the 22-year-old opted to skip the trip to Garhoud as she continues to compete in the Pattaya Open in Thailand.
The draw for the first round, which gets under way tomorrow, will take place today at the Aviation Club.
Serena – so good she only needs one name – is undoubtedly the favourite going into this week's event. Fresh from winning the Australian Open for the fourth time – her 10th singles Grand Slam title – the world No1 will be looking to add the Dubai Open to her long list of achievements and accolades. She has never won in Dubai before and pulled out of the 2008 tournament at the last minute, citing emergency dental treatment. But with one of the strongest entry lists outside the four Majors, Williams will be ready to fight tooth and nail to lift the trophy.
Safina has enjoyed a remarkable rise in the past eight months. The Russian reached her first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros last June and, despite losing to Ana Ivanovic, the 22-year-old has continued to improve reaching seven finals – and winning three – since the 2008 French Open. At this month's Australian Open, Safina saw off compatriot Vera Zvonareva in the semi-finals to set up a final with Serena.
Former world No1 Jelena Jankovic hit out at Roger Federer this week for his claims that somebody who has never won a Major should never be able to be the top-ranked player in their field. The Serb, whose closest shot at Slam success came at the US Open last year, has an early chance to prove herself against the strongest entry list outside the four Majors after disappointing in Melbourne.
Reigning Dubai champion Elena Dementieva has won Olympic gold since the last time she stepped on to the court in Al Garhoud. The Russian beat Safina in Beijing to claim what she later said was "the pinnacle of her career" and "much bigger" than the Grand Slams. The 27-year-old will be keen to retain her title as she has never managed to win any tournament more than once in her career so far.
The 24-year-old achieved her highest world ranking earlier this month when she reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open. The Russian lost to Safina in straight sets, but still found herself as world No5 when the rankings were published the following week. Zvonareva has been the top seed in Pattaya this week where she is gunning for her eighth career title. She will fly to Dubai straight afterwards.
Don't be confused: Serena may be No1, but Venus, the older of the two sisters, is no walkover. The 28-year-old has won seven singles Grand Slams and is the reigning Wimbledon champion. Venus has won 53 titles in her 16-year career and having never had her name engraved on Dubai's silver jug, she will be committed to doing just that. Her last trip to the region saw her leave Doha with the WTA Championships.
A finalist in Dubai last year, The Kuz will be looking to go one step further this time round. It was the second time the Russian has reached the final at the Aviation Club having lost to Justine Henin in 2004. She has also reached the final of the doubles tournament five times, winning once. In Melbourne, she lost to winner Serena in the quarter-finals, despite serving for the match 5-4 in the second set.
The Serb's ranking may have slipped since her victory at Roland Garros last year, but she has moved to stop the rot with the recent appointment of Craig Kardon. The American is the 21-year-old's first coach since her maiden Slam win and with Ivanovic now injury free, it will be interesting to see if she can fight to reclaim her position at the top of the world rankings. She played in Dubai last year, losing to eventual winner Dementieva in the quarter-finals.
The 19-year-old is the youngest player in the top 10 and already has written her name into the history books by becoming the first Pole to win a WTA Tour singles title. Radwanska won the Nordea Nordic Light Open when she was 17. Although disappointing in Melbourne, the teenager has the potential to spring a surprise, as she showed at last year's Dubai Open where she almost caused an upset in the first round, pushing Russian Anna Chakvetadze to three sets before losing 2-6, 6-2, 4-6.
The Russian has long-standing ties to the region having been raised in Egypt as a child. She also secured only her second Tour victory with a win in Doha at the Qatar Open in 2006. Dubai has not, however, been a particularly fruitful stomping ground for the 26-year-old, having failed to progress past the first round at the Open in her previous two attempts. Her last Premier tournament victory came in 2006 in Berlin.
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