Only a week had passed since Iga Swiatek secured another title in Doha when the fortunes of the top players shifted significantly as the tour moved to Dubai. There, Jasmine Paolini emerged as the biggest surprise of the Middle East swing. At 28, the unseeded Paolini won her first WTA 1000 event following a three-set victory against qualifier Anna Kalinskaya.

Only a round earlier, Kalinskaya had upset the top-ranked player. 

Swiatek, who had won 25 of her past 26 matches, was understandably disappointed.

“I didn’t live up to my standard as I usually do,” Swiatek said. “So I’m not happy. On the other hand, these two weeks were so intense that you just have to look forward.”

She’s right. There is much to look forward to: Tournaments this week in San Diego, California and Austin, Texas -- teeing up the Sunshine Double, back-to-back WTA Tour 1000s in Indian Wells and Miami. 

But before that next chapter opens, let’s reflect on the results of the Middle East swing. Here’s a subjective player exit survey, if you will, for a baker’s dozen. Records are for Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai combined, followed by overall mark for 2024.

A successful mission

Iga Swiatek 7-1/14-2: For a while there, it looked like she was going to double up in the desert like 2022, but Kalinskaya took her out 6-4, 6-4. Nevertheless, Swiatek should be satisfied with her effort. She’s widened her lead at No.1 and is set up for success in the United States.

Elena Rybakina 10-2/17-4: Double-digit wins in the desert. Rybakina won the title in Abu Dhabi, lost to Swiatek in the Doha final and withdrew from a Dubai quarterfinal with illness and understandable fatigue.

Karolina Pliskova 6-2/12-4: This one comes with an asterisk. Pliskova actually won 11 matches in February, including her title at the Transylvania Open. She advanced to the semifinal in Doha, losing to Swiatek and fell in the Dubai round of 16 to Coco Gauff -- picking up 40 ranking spots in the process.

Jasmine Paolini 5-1/9-5: What a revelation the 28-year-old Italian was. She ran the table in Dubai, winning her first WTA 1000 title on Saturday in the final over Kalinskaya and vaulted into the Top 20 for the first time.

Sorana Cirstea 7-3/7-6: The 33-year-old was 0-3 coming in, then went 3-2 in Abu Dhabi and Doha before a semifinal run in Dubai, where she lost to Paolini. The one she’ll remember is coming back to defeat Marketa Vondrousova in the quarters. Cirstea trailed by a set and 5-1 -- and, saving six match points -- somehow emerged victorious.

Champions Reel: How Jasmine Paolini won Dubai 2024

Breaking even 

Zheng Qinwen 3-2/11-4: The 21-year-old from China won six straight matches in Melbourne to reach the final and the Top 10 for the first time. She cooled off in the desert, splitting matches in Doha, losing to Leylah Fernandez. Swiatek beat her 6-3, 6-2 in the Dubai quarterfinals.

Marketa Vondrousova 3-2/4-4: Similar results for the 2023 Wimbledon champion … a straight-sets loss to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in Doha and a remarkable meltdown against Cirstea in Dubai. 

Jelena Ostapenko 3-2/16-4: She had the most wins coming into the Middle East events but fell to Victoria Azarenka (6-0, 6-3) in Doha and 6-4, 7-5 to Kalinskaya in Dubai.

Looking to rebound

Aryna Sabalenka 0-1/11-2: The World No.2 and reigning Australian Open champion chose to pass on Doha. And then her first match in Dubai was a loss to Donna Vekic; it was 6-0 in the third set. Sabalenka said afterward that the conditions in Dubai have never been to her liking. She’s already looking forward to Indian Wells where she reached the final last year.

Coco Gauff 2-2/12-4: Last year’s US Open winner started the season well but lost her first match in Doha to Katerina Siniakova and her third in Dubai to the blazing hot Kalinskaya.

Maria Sakkari 1-3/5-4: Sakkari dropped out of the Top 10 when she lost her first two matches in Abu Dhabi and Doha. She posted a nice win over rising Emma Navarro in Dubai but fell to Paolini in the Round of 16.

Comeback update

Naomi Osaka 2-2/5-6: An encouraging outing for the four-time Grand Slam champion and new mother. After a first-round loss at the Australian Open, Osaka took a wild card at Abu Dhabi -- and lost her first match. But in Doha she reached the quarterfinals, showing some vintage fight in a 7-6(6), 7-6(5) loss to Pliskova.

Emma Raducanu 1-2/4-6: After a series of surgeries in 2023, the 2021 US Open champion is back at it. She had her best win rankings-wise in the first round of Abu Dhabi, over Marie Bouzkova. Her next two matches, however, were losses to Ons Jabeur and Anhelina Kalinina.