Yulia Putintseva will be chasing her second WTA Tour title this year when the local hopeful headlines the inaugural women’s Astana Open in Kazakhstan beginning on Monday.
The 26-year-old is the top seed for the Astana Open and faces Ekaterine Gorgodze in the first round.
Putintseva won the WTA 250 Hungarian Grand Prix in July and is seeking to create history as the first woman to win the Astana Open in a nation that has demonstrated a growing passion for tennis.
Ranked 49 in the WTA rankings, she is in sound form after reaching the semifinals in Portoroz, Slovenia, in mid-September.
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She is joined by Billie Jean King Cup teammate Zarina Diyas in the main draw of the WTA 250 held in Nur-Sultan.
Fellow locals Anna Danilina and Zhibek Kulambayeva received wildcards into the home Open.
Diyas will face a qualifier in the opening round, Danilina will play French star Kristina Mladenovic, while Kulambayeva will face second seed Alison van Uytvanck.
It is a significant fortnight for Kazakhstan, which is hosting the WTA tournament following an ATP 250, which concludes on Sunday.
The Kazakhstan Tennis Federation has increased its investment in tennis over the past decade.
In 2021 alone, it has held a $60,000 International Tennis Federation tournament and another nine events offering $15,000 to $25,000 for women.
But the addition of a WTA Tour event to the local calendar has created excitement in Kazakhstan according to the Federation’s vice-president Yuriy Polskiy.
“We are prepared and excited to have the tournament and we are excited that we have the opportunity,” Polskiy said.
“Even in the difficult circumstances [of the pandemic], we have tried to use all of our will and resources to do this.
“We have a lot of nice women playing in the top 100 and also a new generation coming. We want to show to the world that Kazakhstan is a new country on the tennis map and that we are progressing.”
The first Astana Open has drawn an even field and shapes as an opportunity for several women to make a significant strike in the 2021 season.
Putintseva is the only woman in the field to win a title this year, but several of her rivals have produced good runs and are more than capable of claiming the first Astana Open.
Putintseva is in a half of the draw filled with talented players, including Mladenovic, who led France to success in the Billie Jean King Cup in 2019, and the fifth-seed Ana Konjuh.
Konjuh, a Croatian, was a quarterfinalist at the 2016 US Open and is on the comeback trail after missing three seasons with injuries. She has showed promising signs throughout 2021.
Playing as a wildcard entrant in Miami in April, Konjuh reached the third round after defeating former US Open finalist Madison Keys and then French Open champion Iga Swiatek.
Konjuh defeated Putintseva in the Serbian Open when, after qualifying, she reached her first WTA Tour final in four years before an injury forced her to retire in the final against Paula Badosa.
Konjuh plays Anna Blinkova in her opening-round match. It will be their first meeting.
In the bottom half of the draw, van Uytvanck will seek her fifth title, which begins with a clash against Kazakh wildcard Kulambayeva in the first round.
The Belgian van Uytvanck won a WTA 125 title in Nottingham in June, defeating another Astana Open aspirant Arina Rodionova in the final.
Another Belgian, No.75-ranked Greet Minnen, plays Kaja Juvan, who won their only match, on grass in Mallorca in 2019.
Clara Burel, whose junior contemporaries Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez made a tremendous splash at the US Open, has showed good promise on the WTA Tour.
The Frenchwoman is the eighth seed next week and plays Luxembourg veteran Mandy Minella in her opening-round match.