Three former champions will line up in the 2021 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, with two-time winner Elina Svitolina heading the WTA 1000 draw as the No.1 seed.
Svitolina, who won the title here in 2017 and 2018, has a first-round bye and will face an opening clash against either former World No.2 Svetlana Kuznetsova, a three-time runner-up in Dubai, or Wang Qiang. Alongside the Ukrainian, 2013 champion Petra Kvitova is the No.4 seed and 2019 champion Belinda Bencic the No.6 seed.
Bencic, who reached the Adelaide final two weeks ago, faces a tough road. The Swiss player will open against either Veronika Kudermetova, to whom she has lost in three out of five previous meetings, or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who ended her title defence in a remarkable 1-6, 6-1, 6-1 first round here last year. Should Bencic navigate that round successfully, she is projected to face No.11 seed Madison Keys, her conqueror this week in Doha, in the last 16, and Svitolina in the quarterfinals.
Among the most fascinating projected clashes in the draw is a potential third-round match between No.8 seed Iga Swiatek and No.9 seed Garbiñe Muguruza. It would be a first meeting between the 19-year-old Roland Garros champion, who continued her surge toward the top of the game with another dominant title run in Adelaide a fortnight ago, and the resurgent former World No.1. Muguruza will play her second final of 2021 today in Doha, and has put together the most consistent spell of her career over the past 14 months. The Spaniard has won at least two matches in 11 of her past 12 tournaments.
Rising Polish star Iga Swiatek from Poland stunned the world to win the French Open in record-breaking fashion and now she is ready for a shot at the Dubai title. Read more about her ambitions: https://t.co/fp5uCfm7rT pic.twitter.com/TdgV56r3za— Dubai Tennis Champs (@DDFTennis) March 3, 2021
Whoever survives between Swiatek and Muguruza will be tested again in a projected quarterfinal against No.3 seed Aryna Sabalenka, who has thrived in the Middle East of late. Sabalenka, who captured the 2020 Doha and 2021 Abu Dhabi titles, has yet to face Swiatek - but saw her Doha title defence ended this week by Muguruza in a second-round thriller. The Belarusian will first need to navigate a section that includes the resurgent Phillip Island Trophy champion Daria Kasatkina and No.15 seed Anett Kontaveit.
Elsewhere, a clash of former World No.1s could loom as early as the second round. No.7 seed Victoria Azarenka, a Dubai finalist in 2010, was forced to withdraw from this week's Doha semifinals with a back injury. A first-round bye will give the Belarusian more recovery time before she faces either Angelique Kerber or Caroline Garcia. No.10 seed Elise Mertens is projected in the third round and No.2 seed Karolina Pliskova, the 2015 runner-up, in the quarterfinals.
Tunisian Ons Jabeur is a beacon of encouragement and hope for every aspiring female in the Arab world playing tennis. She says she is ready to make her mark at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships next month. To read more about her journey, click here https://t.co/IFDVzHUlxi pic.twitter.com/5cekd6aACx— Dubai Tennis Champs (@DDFTennis) February 14, 2021
A number of landmines also stand in Kvitova's way. The Czech will open against either Paula Badosa or Adelaide semifinalist Jil Teichmann. The last 16 could either see a first encounter between Kvitova and last year's runner-up, No.14 seed Elena Rybakina, or a rematch of her superb 2020 Doha quarterfinal against crowd favorite Ons Jabeur.
Kvitova's projected quarterfinal opponent is No.5 seed Kiki Bertens. The Dutchwoman managed to win just two games from Jelena Ostapenko this week in her first match back after Achilles tendon surgery, and her intriguingly open section also includes former Roland Garros finalist and No.12 seed Marketa Vondrousova, and 16-year-old wildcard Coco Gauff.
Main draw play begins on Sunday. The tournament will be hosted in line with Covid-19 guidelines and will be spectator-free.