Top seed and defending champion Simona Halep could face former world number Ana Ivanovic in her opening match at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships which gets underway on Monday February 15.
Halep has a bye into the second round but the draw for the tournament made on Saturday raised the prospect of some tantalising battles ahead.
Three times a quarter-finalist, the smiling Serb Ivanoic reached the third round of the Australian Open where she led Madison Keys before becoming distracted when her coach was taken ill and carried from the stadium.
During the past week she has been making her mark in St. Petersburg, where on Friday she earned a place in the semi-finals.
Another former world number one also faces strong competition.
Dubai resident Jelena Jankovic finds herself up against the world’s most exciting teenager, Belinda Bencic, who last month reached the semi-finals in Sydney and the fourth round of the Australian Open before playing a major role in Switzerland’s Fed Cup victory over Germany with wins against Andrea Petkovic and recent Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber.
Other mouth-watering match-ups include the experienced and double Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova, who in 2015 proved she was still a force to be reckoned with by winning in Moscow and reaching the Madrid final, up against 2012 Dubai finalist Julia Goerges.
Second seed and Wimbledon finalist Garbiñe Muguruza has a bye into the second round and will then play a qualifier or 2015 French Open quarter-finalist Elina Svitolina, third seed Carla Suárez-Navarro after a bye will play Caroline Garcia or Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, and fourth seed and two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova will begin against former top ten member Ekaterina Makarova or Madison Brengle.
Karolina Pliskova, who last year finished as runner-up to Halep, is in top form and beat Halep earlier this month as she led the Czech Republic to a Fed Cup victory over Romania. She plays CoCo Vandeweghe.
“The draw for the 16th staging of the WTA event at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships has produced the prospect of some very interesting matches, both in the early rounds and later in the week,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman of Dubai Duty Free. “There is the possibility of our defending champion, Simona Halep, facing a star of the future in Belinda Bencic or the experienced campaigner Carla Suarez Navarro in one semi-final, and Wimbledon finalist Garbiñe Muguruza facing two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the other. It will be a very interesting week indeed.”
Illness and injury has meant that a number of players will be unable to compete as planned.
“We are disappointed that Serena Williams will be unable to try and add the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships to her long list of achievements, and that Angelique Kerber is also injured. Caroline Wozniacki is a popular player here and a global Ambassador for Dubai Duty Free, and has also had to withdraw,” said tournament Salah Tahlak.
“However, we still have ten of the top 20 players in the world, including two of the top five, and competition for the title will be as strong as ever. We are guaranteed some very exciting contests and outstanding entertainment throughout the week.”
Play in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships begins with the WTA event, which takes place between February 15 and 20. Play then continues between February 22 and 27 with the action-packed ATP tournament featuring four-time Dubai winner and current Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, former Australian Open winner and current French Open champion Stan Wawrinka, and two-time Dubai finalist Tomas Berdych.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free, and held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.