After crowning Petra Kvitova the champion at the Qatar Total Open, the Middle East swing moves to Dubai for the 21st edition of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Here's what you need to know next week's WTA 1000 event:
1. Dubai kicks off the WTA 1000 season
Offering up a total prize purse of over $1.8 million, the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is the first WTA 1000 event of the season, with the next stop coming at the Miami Open. The Dubai champion will take home $221,500 and 900 ranking points.
The Top Eight Seeds: 1. Elina Svitolina, 2. Karolina Pliskova, 3. Aryna Sabalenka, 4. Petra Kvitova, 5. Kiki Bertens, 6. Belinda Bencic, 7. Victoria Azarenka, 8. Iga Swiatek.
Wildcards were offered to Timea Babos, Coco Gauff and Anastasia Potapova.
2. Main draw play begins on Sunday, with the final scheduled for Saturday
Qualifying is already underway in Dubai, where main draw play will begin Sunday, March 7. Both singles and doubles finals are scheduled for Saturday, March 13.
The doubles final will be played at 5:00 p.m. local and the singles final will follow at 7:00 p.m.
Main draw singles @DDFTennis, where Elina Svitolin and Karolina Pliskova are the top seeds.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) March 6, 2021
3. Twelve of the Top 20 are in the field
Two-time champion and No.5 Elina Svitolina tops the field with No.6 Karolina Pliskova anchoring the bottom half of the draw. This year's Dubai field includes four of the Top 10 - Aryna Sabalenka and Doha champion Petra Kvitova round out the Top 10 entries - and 12 of the Top 20, including Slam champions Iga Swiatek, Victoria Azarenka and Garbiñe Muguruza.
4. Simona Halep is the defending champion
The Romanian enjoyed a memorable run to her 20th career title last year in Dubai. Coming off a semifinal run at the Australian Open, Halep saved a match point to defeat Ons Jabeur in a raucous second-round encounter. Then she came through a deciding tiebreak in the final to defeat Elena Rybakina 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(5), in a match that would ultimately be voted the 2020 Match of the Year.
Unfortunately, Halep will not be in Dubai to defend her title. The World No.3 is still healing from a low back issue that plagued her in Australia.
5. Petra Kvitova eyes the Doha/Dubai Double
Only two women have been able to win Doha and Dubai back-to-back. Martina Hingis accomplished the feat in 2001 and Justine Henin is the last woman to do it in 2007. Can Qatar Total Open champion Petra Kvitova end the drought?
Kvitova comes into Dubai fresh off a dominant week in Doha, where she captured her second Qatar Total Open title to bring her career title tally to 28. Among active players, only Serena Williams (73), Venus Williams (49) and Kim Clijsters (41) have won more titles.
The Czech has enjoyed good success in the Middle East. A champion in Dubai in 2013 and runner-up to Belinda Bencic in 2019, Kvitova ranks behind only Simona Halep in career points earned during the Middle East swing:
3,451: Simona Halep
3,268: Petra Kvitova
2,851: Victoria Azarenka
2,314: Elina Svitolina
1,828: Carla Suarez Navarro
1,799: Karolina Pliskova
I am honored with the Laureus Award nomination among such great athletes and I would like to thank everyone who voted for me. The motto of Laureus Award is about having the power to change the world by sport. I truly believe it is possible. @LaureusSport pic.twitter.com/fy5H4B97mZ— Iga Świątek (@iga_swiatek) March 1, 2021
6. Iga Swiatek makes her Dubai debut
Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek is set to make her Dubai debut this week, where she is seeded No.8. With a bye into the second round, Swiatek will face either Polona Hercog, in what would be a rematch of her first career final at 2019 Lugano, or a qualifier.
Given Swiatek's astronomical rise over the past six months, which includes her first WTA 500 title two weeks ago at the Adelaide International, it's worth taking a time out to recognize just how many of the tour's biggest events Swiatek has yet to make her main draw debut.
Currently ranked at a career-high No.15, the 19-year-old is hoping to make her tournament debuts at some of the tour's most prestigious events this year:
Volvo Car Open (Charleston)
Porsche Tennis Grand Prix (Stuttgart)
Mutua Madrid Open
Nature Valley International (Eastbourne)
Coupe Rogers (Montreal)
Western & Southern Open (Cincinnati)
Toray Pan Pacific Open (Tokyo)
Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open
China Open (Beijing)
7. Garbiñe Muguruza is the winningest player on the WTA Tour this year
With her strong run to her second final of the season in Doha, Muguruza pulled ahead on the Stat Leaderboard and leads the tour in match-wins in 2021, with a 12-4 record. Already the season leader in finals made (Yarra Valley Classic, Doha) the Spaniard is bidding to win her first title since 2019 Monterrey and her biggest since 2017 Cincinnati.
Muguruza opens against a qualifier in the first round and could face either Amanda Anisimova or another qualifier in the second round.
The match to circle is Muguruza's potential Round of 16 encounter with Swiatek. It would be the first-time meeting between the two French Open champions and one that the young Polish star has already tapped as a match-up she wants to experience.
"I wish I could play against Garbine Muguruza," Swiatek told reporters in Adelaide when asked who she is looking forward to playing for the first time.
"I mean it would be a really tough match, but we played some practices and yeah, I would like to know how things would look against her, because she's playing a really solid game and she can play fast, she can play topspin and slower and faster, so I would have to adjust during the match. That would be hard for me, but I would [like to] play against her."
The winner of that match could face No.3 seed Aryna Sabalenka in the quarterfinals.
8. Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka reunite in the doubles field
Australian Open champions Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka do not plan to play together much in 2021, so enjoy their occasional partnership while you can. Mertens/Sabalenka are the top seeds in the doubles draw, with Czech stalwarts Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova the No.2 seeds.
Sania Mirza continues her comeback as well, pairing up with Andreja Klepac. The two face Shelby Rogers and Zhang Saisai in the first round. Other notable pairings include No.6 seeds Gaby Dabrowski and Coco Gauff, Karolina and Kristyna Pliskova, and Laura Siegemund and Vera Zvonareva.
9. One to Watch: Jessica Pegula
The American continued her strong hard-court season in Doha. After making her first major quarterfinal at the Australian Open, Pegula advanced to her first WTA 500 semifinal and pushed eventual champion Kvitova in two tight sets.
With the courts playing quicker in Dubai, look for Pegula's aggressive game to pay dividends. Ranked No.44 and bound for a Top 40 debut Monday, Pegula opens her tournament against Yaroslava Shvedova and could face either 13th seed Petra Martic or Kristina Mladenovic in the second round.
Players with 2 Top 10 wins in 2021 so far:— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) March 6, 2021
Serena (Halep, Sabalenka)
Muchova (Pliskova, Barty)
Collins (Pliskova, Barty)
Kanepi (Sabalenka, Kenin)
Muguruza (Kenin, Sabalenka)
Pegula (Svitolina, Pliskova)
Pegula tallied her second Top 10 win of the year when she defeated Karolina Pliskova in straight sets in the Doha quarterfinals and the two could meet again in the Round of 16 in Dubai.
With injury concerns surrounding Victoria Azarenka (lower back) and Elise Mertens (right shoulder), Pegula could be primed to take advantage of the bottom quarter.
10. Five players aim to double-up
There have been nine events so far in 2021, with the champions spread across 10 different players. Five of 2021's champions are looking to win their second titles of the year in Dubai: Sabalenka (Abu Dhabi), Mertens (Gippsland), Kontaveit (Grampians), Swiatek (Adelaide) and Kvitova (Doha).