This week, Kirsten Flipkens returns to the site of her WTA breakthough, Québec City, while Donna Vekic looks to pick up her maiden career title in Tashkent.
WTA Staff

Twelve months ago, Kirsten Flipkens arrived in Québec City for the Challenge Bell outside the Top 100 and still searching for her best tennis after recovering from a serious health scare.

Seven days, five wins and countless memories later her rehabilitation was complete as she set off back to Europe for the rest of the indoor season with a maiden WTA title safely tucked away in her luggage.

She returns for her defense this week with raised expectations after a succession of reputation-enhancing performances, including a semifinal run at Wimbledon, have sent her shooting up the rankings.

Flipkens' elegant sliced backhand and regular forays into the net are ideally suited to the Laval University's low-bouncing carpet courts and as the top seed and only player in the draw inside the Top 20 she will certainly start as the woman to beat.

Chief competition is likely to come from the other leading seeds, Kristina Mladenovic, Lucie Safarova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. All three possess the power and attacking instincts to be a real menace on faster surfaces, as Safarova and Mattek-Sands have illustrated previously in Québec, where they have both reached the final.

Six thousand miles away, and in very different conditions, Bojana Jovanovski and Lesia Tsurenko will be among those looking to dethrone reigning champion Irina-Camelia Begu at the Tashkent Open.

Despite being the highest-ranked player in the draw, Jovanovski, who has only just returned from a wrist injury, was forced to enter qualifying after missing the main draw entry deadline, and she is hoping the extra matches will hold her in good stead.

"I'm happy that I have been able to spend an extra two days on the court and play some more matches," Jovanovski said. "I have been injured for some time and have not been able to play matches, but getting here and playing the qualifiers will help me a lot."

Last year, Donna Vekic also made it through qualifying and into her maiden WTA final before finally wilting under the heat of Begu and the Uzbek weather.

"Every player needs a breakthrough tournament," Vekic said at the draw ceremony on Saturday. "This tournament provided me with that last year and I'm happy that a lot of other youngsters are playing in the event and I'm sure they'll also be challenging."

As for her chances this year, the 17-year-old from Croatia was quietly confident. "I expect at least a similar result to last year, if not better!"

Joining Vekic in the draw will be fellow seeds Yvonne Meusburger, Alexandra Cadantu, Galina Voskoboeva and Yaroslava Shvedova.

"Though the tournament doesn't have some of the big names, it is still going to be very tough just by the sheer depth of talented players here," Shvedova said. "Whether it's me playing Vesna Dolonc or Timea Babos taking on Yvonne Meusburger - these are all tough first round matches."