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Serena and Venus head one of greatest WTA fields ever for Dubai Tennis Championships

Venus Williams returns as defending champion of the Dubai Tennis Championships. (Supplied)

By Staff

World number one Serena Williams will be on a mission when she arrives next month to head one of the greatest fields ever assembled for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

The legendary American holds an astonishing 18 Grand Slam singles titles, but she has never been able to advance beyond the semifinals in her four previous visits to Dubai, last year falling to exciting Frenchwoman Alize Cornet.

Despite claiming seven titles last year, including her sixth US Open crown and fifth trophy at the WTA Finals, the intensity of the competition Serena has found has so far been too big a hurdle to overcome.

Her sister Venus meanwhile, will return as defending champion, having taken her third Dubai title last year when she became the first wild card and first unseeded player in the history of the women’s event to claim the title.

Williams has started this year on a high, taking her 46th career title with a win at the Auckland Classic, defeating Caroline Wozniacki 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.

But both sisters will have their work cut out for them when the annual tennis extravaganza gets underway at the Dubai Tennis Stadium on February 15, with eight of the top 10 and 17 of the top 20 women in the world all competing for one of the most exclusive titles in the game.

Tennis fans will have even more great action to enjoy this year as the number of players in the draw has doubled, with a remarkable 41 players from the world's top 55 gaining direct entry into the competition.

The door will be left open for five wild cards, and eight players will join the elite group in the main draw after battling through the qualifying rounds.

“The fact that Serena Williams has not yet been able to add the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships trophy to her remarkable and lengthy list of achievements is proof of the strength of competition here,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice-Chairman of Dubai Duty Free, the tournament owners and organisers.

“With nearly every top player in the world regularly making the event one of their essential stops on the tour, few tournaments offer such a strong challenge and are as difficult to win.”

Simona Halep is among those who could provide an insurmountable obstacle, as the Romanian swept Serena Williams aside with ease in the round robin stages of the WTA Finals in Singapore at the end of last season.

Anxious to make up for her early exit from Dubai in 2014, when she had to retire from her opening match with injury, Halep is a leading contender for the title, and showed her early form this year winning her ninth career title earlier this month at the Shenzhen Open.

Former Dubai winner Petra Kvitova also has good reason to make up for a disappointing 2014 Dubai campaign, as she was upset in her opening match by Carla Suarez Navarro before going on to prove that she is still a world-beater by claiming her second Wimbledon crown.

Like Kvitova, Agnieszka Radwanska knows what it takes to win the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title, and after yet another magnificent season last year the 2012 champion will arrive full of confidence and determination.

Another fierce competitor who will be anxious to regain her title is Caroline Wozniacki, who saw off all-comers in 2011 and last season demonstrated that she can still compete at the very highest by reaching the final of the US Open.

And, knowing she had the strength and endurance to complete the New York Marathon late last year, she knows she can stay out there on court for as long as it takes to win.

Ana Ivanovic also has a statement to make after failing to advance beyond the second round in her last two visits to Dubai. The former French Open champion and world number one otherwise had a strong 2014 season that earned her four titles and more wins than any other player on the WTA Tour.

“Every player who comes here for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships knows that they need to be in top form right from the first round,” said Tournament Director, Salah Tahlak. “Every year provides an upset right from the start and no player will take any match for granted.

“This year the tournament provides even more for the fans, with the number of players competing increasing from 32 to 64. With entry free to the outside courts, it is certain that tennis fans will be able to enjoy unprecedented access to see many of the most famous names in the sport.”

The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is 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.

Tickets for the event will available from the Box Office at the Dubai Tennis Stadium, Garhoud which opens from 9am to 9pm daily.  Grandstand tickets can also be bought online at https://www.timeouttickets.com/.  For further information about tickets, prices and the tournament visit www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com.