DOHA, Qatar - World No.1 Ashleigh Barty returns to action at the Qatar Total Open, the first Premier 5 event of the season, where 6 of the Top 10 are in action. Last year's finalist, Simona Halep, withdrew ahead of the tournament.
Top Eight Seeds: No.1 Ashleigh Barty, No.3 Karolina Pliskova, No.4 Belinda Bencic, No.5 Elina Svitolina, No.6 Sofia Kenin, No.7 Kiki Bertens, No.8 Petra Kvitova, No.9 Aryna Sabalenka (No.2 Simona Halep withdrew).
Top Half: Barty, Pliskova, Kenin, Kvitova
Bottom Half: Bencic, Svitolina, Bertens, Sabalenka
Projected Round of 16: Barty-Rybakina, Kenin-Muguruza, Pliskova-Riske, Kvitova-Martic, Svitolina-Vekic, Bencic-Mertens, Bertens-Vondrousova, Sabalenka-Sakkari.
Last year's final: Elise Mertens d. Simona Halep, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Ashleigh Barty returns to action after post-Australian Open break
The World No.1 enjoyed some well-deserved down time after her stellar Australian summer, which saw her win the title in Adelaide and make her first Australian Open semifinal.
Barty has a bye into the second round, but her quarter is a potentially tough one. She opens against either Laura Siegemund or Yaroslava Shvedova, who is playing her first tournament since 2017 Roland Garros after maternity leave. From there, she could face the red-hot Elena Rybakina in the quarterfinals. An Australian Open rematch against Sofia Kenin looms in the quarterfinals, though an in-form Garbiñe Muguruza is also in the mix for that quarterfinal spot.
Sofia Kenin and Garbiñe Muguruza primed for an Australian Open final rematch.
Kenin and Muguruza, both in Barty's quarter, could face-off again in the Round of 16 in Dubai. Muguruza, in particular, continued to show her form and intensity en route to the Dubai quarterfinals last week, where she was edged out by Jennifer Brady in a tough three sets.
After a first-round bye, Kenin faces either Dayana Yastremska or Kirsten Flipkens. Muguruza is set to lock horns with a familiar foe in the first round, as Daria Kasatkina came through qualifying. Kasatkina has won their last two matches, but this will be their first meeting since 2018 Madrid.
Elena Rybakina is the real deal
The 20-year-old is the revelation of the first two months of the WTA season. Rybakina's easy, controlled power has put her into four finals in five tournaments played, and she leads the tour in wins this season with a 19-4 record. She will rise to a new career-high ranking on Monday, well inside the Top 20, and she has proven that regardless of conditions or fatigue, she has the game to beat nearly anyone on tour.
After taking a narrow loss to Halep in the Dubai final, Rybakina is set to make her tournament debut in Doha against Sorana Cirstea in the first round. She could face Barty in the Round of 16, a rematch of their third-round encounter at the Australian Open which Barty won 6-3, 6-2.
Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova lead the Czech quarter
World No.3 Pliskova is the top seed in the second quarter of the draw, which is co-anchored by No.11 Kvitova. Pliskova opens against either Bernarda Pera or Caroline Garcia after an opening-round bye. Kvitova will face either former champion Carla Suárez Navarro, who is making her final appearance in Doha, or China's Zhang Shuai.
If Pliskova and Kvitova can navigate themselves to the quarterfinals, they will face-off for the first time since the 2018 WTA Finals.
Elise Mertens's tough title defense must go through Wang Qiang
Mertens opens against Wang in the first round, and if their past matches are any indication, be ready to settle in for a tough one. Wang leads their head-to-head 3-2 and four of their five meetings have gone deep into a third set. The two faced off just last week in Dubai, with Mertens posting a confident 6-3, 6-0 win.
Mertens has been drawn into the third quarter anchored by No.4 seed Belinda Bencic and No.5 seed Elina Svitolina. Svitolina is still searching for her 2020 form, having posted a 4-5 record so far this year. Svitolina opens against either a surging Ekaterina Alexandrova or Amanda Anisimova in the second round.
Bencic, who will drop to No.9 after her Dubai title defense ended early last week at the hands of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, will open against either Kristina Mladenovic or Veronika Kudermetova.
Kiki Bertens bids to build on St. Petersburg run
Bertens opted to take the week off after her strong title defense in St. Petersburg and she's back in action to build on her solid season start. The Dutchwoman kicked off her year with a quarterfinal run in Brisbane, her first Round of 16 appearance at the Australian Open, going undefeated in singles in a pressure-packed Fed Cup tie, and then winning her 10th career title in St. Petersburg.
With Simona Halep's withdrawal, Bertens is now the top seed in the bottom quarter, where No.9 seed Aryna Sabalenka has been moved into Halep's vacated spot. Bertens opens against either Karolina Muchova or Magda Linette, with No.12 seed Marketa Vondrousova potentially looming as her Round of 16 opponent.
Notable first-round matches: Garbiñe Muguruza vs. Daria Kasatkina, Alison Riske vs. Jennifer Brady, Donna Vekic vs. Iga Swiatek, Elise Mertens vs. Wang Qiang, Maria Sakkari vs. Julia Goerges, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Yulia Putintseva, Petra Martic vs. Barbora Strycova, Amanda Anisimova vs. Ekaterina Alexandrova.