Agnieszka Radwanska had a wry smile on her face when her possible second round opponent at the Qatar Total Open was revealed yesterday. The fourth seed from Poland will have a Monday off when the tournament begins at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex, as she has been given a bye in the first round.
But on Tuesday, she is all set to run in to close friend and former World No.1 Caroline Wozniacki in the second round. Of course, Denmark’s Wozniacki has to first win her opening round match against Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, with not much separating the two in the rankings. Wozniacki has slipped to World No.18, while Bertens is 24th, but the Dane is fancied to get through.
Over the last few years, Radwanska and Wozniacki’s close friendship has gone through many testing times. The duo has faced each other 15 times, with Wozniacki coming out triumphant on nine occasions.
However, Radwanska has had the better of her buddy in the last two matches and will be hoping, if she has to face Wozniacki again, she can make it a hat-trick of wins.
“It’s really tough draw for me,” said Radwanska after the draw ceremony yesterday. “Probably I will face Caroline in the second round and I am expecting a tough one. But will see how it goes.”
Last year in Doha, Radwanska made it to the semi-finals before being knocked out by eventual winner Carla Suarez Navarro, who has withdrawn from this year’s tournament due to injury.
But this year, Radwanska will have to be in much better form than she has shown so far, to test the likes of No.1 seed Angelique Kerber, second seed Karolina Pliskova and Dominika Cibulkova, who is seeded third.
Radwanska began 2017 looking for answers, switching racquets with the hope of adding a more powerful dimension to her off-court game. The Pole reached the semis and the final in Shenzhen and Sydney respectively, but was knocked out in the second round at the Australian Open, falling to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.
The 27-year-old is looking to make amends in Doha this week. “I think every tournament is different, the conditions are different. We all know what happened at the Australian Open. So there is no point in looking backwards,” said Radwanska.
“I think it’s too early to talk about 2017. I reached the WTA final in Sydney, which was good. Obviously it was disappointing when you lose in the first week at the Grand Slam. I am just looking forward to do well in Doha and in Dubai next week, playing more matches and getting more points. Play some good tennis as well,” she said.
Meanwhile, Germany’s Kerber, who lost her World No. 1 ranking to Serena Williams when the American won the Australian Open last month, will await the winner of the match between Camelia-Irina Begu of Romania or Daria Kasatkina of Russia, in the second round.
Interestingly, if Kerber comes through as expected she could face Olympic champion Monica Puig in the Quarter-finals. Puig, who will take on Laura Siegemund of Germany in her opening match in Doha, shocked the tennis world when the Puerto Rican beat Kerber to win gold at the Rio Olympics last year. And Kerber will be hoping for a revenge for the heartbreak she suffered last August.
In the bottom-half of the draw, Pliskova of Czech Republic will face either Carloine Garcia or a qualifier in the second round. The second seed is most likely to face fifth seed Garbine Muguruza of Spain in the quarters.
Pliskova has been on the ascendancy since last summer. The 24-year-old’s start to the year has been near-perfect as she has lost just one match under new coach David Kotyza.
She blew away the field to win in Brisbane in January without losing a set and came within a few games of booking her spot in yet another major semi-final at the Australian Open. With the form that she is in, Pliskova will fancy her chances in Doha.
Meanwhile, third seed Cibulkova will face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia or a qualifier in the second round. The Slovak could face former World No. 4 Samantha Stosur of Australia or eighth seed Barbora Strykova of Czech Republic in the quarters.
The reigning WTA Finals champion has had an unprecedented success last year. Now at a career-high ranking of No.5, Cibulkova is one of the favourites in a star-studded field in Doha.
Her best result in Qatar came in her first visit in 2008, when she reached the quarter-finals before being beaten in three sets by Radwanska. The tournament has already seen withdrawals from Suarez Navarro, the 2016 champion, and World No.8 Svetlana Kuznetsova, due to injuries. But with five of the top-10 in attendance, Qatar Open will have no dearth of star quality.
Tennis players and officials at the Qatar Total Open draw yesterday. At right, Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.