The tour bids farewell to a productive start of the season in Australia and heads to the Middle East, where the Qatar Total Open kicks off Monday, March 1, followed by the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Sunday, March 7.
Here's what you need to know about this week's event in Doha:
1. The Qatar Total Open is a WTA 500 event this year.
The Qatar Total Open and Dubai Duty Free Championships alternate between WTA 1000 and WTA 500 levels each year. With Doha holding the WTA 1000 designation last season, this year it is a WTA 500.
The field is a 28 player singles draw and a 16 team doubles draw. Champions will be awarded 470 points.
Four wildcards were awarded: two-time champion Victoria Azarenka, 2016 finalist Jelena Ostapenko, Egypt's Mayar Sherif and Turkey's Cagla Buyukakcay.
Amanda Anisimova, 19, is the youngest player in the draw.
2. Clear your schedule for a Saturday final.
Main draw play begins on Monday, March 1, and the singles final will be played at 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 6. The doubles final will be played at 4 p.m. on Friday, March 5.
3. Aryna Sabalenka aims for a rare Doha title defense.
Last year's final, which would turn out to be the last WTA 1000 tournament before the shutdown, saw Aryna Sabalenka defeat Petra Kvitova, 6-3, 6-3 in the final. Now ranked No.8, Sabalenka is hoping to follow in the footsteps of her compatriot Victoria Azarenka to become just the second woman to successfully defend the title in Doha.
Azarenka accomplished the feat in 2012 and 2013.
4. The main draw ceremony took place on Saturday evening.
Main Draw in Doha, where Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, Aryna Sabaelnka, and Petra Kvitova are the Top 4 seeds.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) February 27, 2021
Main draw play begins Monday. pic.twitter.com/0sYCoMY6hM
5. Four Top 10 players are in action.
Ten of the Top 20, including four of the Top 10 are entered in Doha. No.5 Elina Svitolina tops the field, followed by No.6 Karolina Pliskova, defending champion and No.8 Aryna Sabalenka and No.10 Petra Kvitova. Sabalenka, Kvitova and Pliskova have been crowned the champions in three of the past four years.
The top four seeds have byes into the second round.
6. Jennifer Brady, Garbiñe Muguruza and Belinda Bencic arrive in form.
In addition, four recent tournament finalists bring their strong form into Doha. Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady is seeded No.7 in Doha and opens against Anett Kontaveit.
Yarra Valley Classic finalist Garbiñe Muguruza, who was the only player to get a set off Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open, also returns to Doha. She faces Abu Dhabi runner-up Veronika Kudermetova in the first round.
Lastly, Belinda Bencic faces a quick turnaround after playing the Adelaide International final Saturday, where she lost to Iga Swiatek. Bencic faces Madison Keys in her opener.
7. Keep an eye on Ons Jabeur and Mayar Sherif.
The tour's highest-ranked players from the Arab world would love nothing more than to make a splash over the next two weeks. Jabeur comes into Doha off a third-round exit to Osaka in Melbourne, while Sherif lost a tough three-setter to Kaja Juvan in the second round.
The 31st-ranked Jabeur landed in the bottom half of the draw and opens her tournament against a qualifier. She could face No.2 seed Pliskova in the second round.
"Honestly, I want to aim big in these two tournaments," Jabeur told reporters ahead of the tournament. "I think it's a big deal for an Arab man or woman to win one of these tournaments. If I were to win a title, I want it to be in either Doha or Dubai.
"I love it here. It doesn't stress me to play in Arab countries. I want to see more tournaments in the Middle East and maybe North Africa."
Last fall, Sherif became the first Egyptian woman to qualify for the main draw at a Slam, doing so at Roland Garros. Earlier this month, she became the first to win a main draw Grand Slam match, at the Australian Open. The 24-year-old comes in ranked at a career-high No.114 and is in the top half of the draw. She opens against Maria Sakkari.
A successful fortnight in the Middle East could put her into the Top 100 for the first time. That milestone would result in more history for the region's current trailblazers, as there have never been two women from the Middle East/North Africa region simultaneously ranked inside the Top 100. Should Sherif make her Top 100 debut she would join Selima Sfar and Jabeur as the third woman from the Arab world to do so and the first from Egypt.
Kiki Bertens is back and ready for @QatarTennis. After achilles surgery in October, Bertens says she was able to hit for 10m on December 31st.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) February 27, 2021
“I’m hungry to play again some matches. Let’s see what this week is going to bring.”
Got to Doha early to get used to outdoor play. pic.twitter.com/IZIcwBaaSj
8. Kiki Bertens, Madison Keys and Amanda Anisimova start their seasons.
For the first time in 2021, No.11 Kiki Bertens, No.19 Madison Keys and No.32 Amanda Anisimova are ready to go. Bertens last played at 2020 Roland Garros, subsequently undergoing surgery on her Achilles tendon in October. After extensive rehabilitation, the Dutch star was first able to hit balls for 10 minutes on Dec. 31 and has been cleared by her doctor to resume competition.
"For me, it's tough to have any predictions because it's my first tournament in a long time," Bertens told reporters ahead of the tournament. "So it's to be able to compete again, see where my level is, get the match rhythm again and try to enjoy my time on the match court again. That's my first goal."
"We got here early because I have to play outdoors again, which is a huge difference. I practiced only indoors the last few weeks."
Keys and Anisimova were forced to delay their season starts after testing positive for the coronavirus before the Australian Open.
Bertens will face Jelena Ostapenko, Keys takes on Bencic, and Anisimova will face Zheng Saisai in their respective first-round matches.
9. Victoria Azarenka aims to rekindle her Doha success.
A champion in Doha in 2012 and 2013, Victoria Azarenka returns for the first time since 2015 after taking a wildcard into the event. Azarenka has enjoyed great success in Doha, posting a 14-2 record over her career. She has made the final or won the title in three of her four main-draw appearances.
Seeded No.8 this year, Azarenka faces Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round. The Russian has played the most matches of anyone in Doha over her career, posting a 19-11 record. Both women are coming off early exits from the Australian Open. Azarenka bowed out in the first round to eventual quarterfinalist Jessica Pegula - who is the top seed in qualifying - while Kuznetsova lost a tough three-setter to Belinda Bencic in the second round.
10. Former Doubles No.1 Elena Vesnina is back.
Elena Vesnina is back in a draw. The former Doubles No.1 who put together a memorable run to the biggest singles title of her career, at the 2017 BNP Paribas Open, is back after going on maternity leave in 2018.
Vesnina is in Doha with her husband and daughter, Elisabeth, and has taken a wildcard into the doubles event. She will team with Laura Siegemund. The Russian is also planning to play singles next week in Dubai.