By Sports Reporter/Doha
Get ready for a thrilling rollercoaster ride – grunts, shrieks and plenty of drama thrown in.
It’s that time of the year again when the women are ready to rock the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex.
A little over a month after Russian Andre Rublev won the ExxonMobil Qatar Open title, the world’s leading women players have assembled in Doha for the Qatar Total Open.
Boasting a total purse of nearly $3mn, it’s the first Premier 5 event of the season and one of the most prestigious outside the four Grand Slams.
As many as seven players in the top-10 have confirmed their participation, led by none other than Ashleigh Barty, who chose tennis over cricket and has not regretted it one bit. At 23, she is already the World No 1 with career earnings in the range of $17mn. It’s something she would have perhaps not made in a full career playing cricket.
But although money is a great motivator, it’s not everything, as most leading tennis players will tell you all the time. Beyond a point, it’s their legacy that matters. Few would remember how many millions Nadal and Federer made in the careers, but many would be able to recall some of their most sensational match-ups, their struggles and the tears of joy they shed when they emerged victorious after a gladiatorial contest.
The same goes for the women. Serena Williams is the top earner among women with almost $93mn won in prizemoney alone, but a defeat still hurts her. She could easily walk away after losing a match smiling, thinking of all the cash she has in the bank. But she doesn’t. For her, the sport is all about winning, all about emotion, sometimes too raw for everybody’s comfort.
Williams is not playing in Doha, where Barty, the reigning French Open champion, is seeded first. The top eight seeds have been given first round byes in the 64-player draw where things can get tricky. Barty returns to the tour for the first time since a semifinal defeat to Sofia Kenin on home soil at the Australian Open.
Having pulled out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis championships this week due to a foot injury, the Aussie gets a bye in the opening round and could face another player making a different sort of comeback in the second round. Barty with face either Alison van Uytvanck or Yaroslava Shvedova, with the latter playing her first singles event in over two years.
After giving birth to twins in 2018, Shvedova played her first WTA-level event last week in Dubai in doubles with Darija Jurak, losing to Lyudmyla and Nadiia Kichenok in the first round, and was also named a playing captain for the Kazakh Fed Cup team earlier this month. Also in the top quarter is another Kazakh, the red-hot No.14 seed Elena Rybakina, who will face Sorana Cirstea in her opening match.
Rybakina reached her fourth final in five tournaments played by a win over Petra Marticc on Friday in Dubai, and could get an Australian Open rematch against Barty in the round of 16.
Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, the No 3 seed, anchors a quarter of the draw that features three former champions at the event.
Pliskova won the event in 2017, and will face either Caroline Garcia or a qualifier in her first match, while Kvitova, the No 8 seed and 2018 champion, could face either 2016 winner Carla Suárez Navarro or Zhang Shuai in her first match.
2016 runner-up Jelena Ostapenko also features in this section, and will face a qualifier in her first match.
A pair of opening round matches in Doha are rematches from this week in Dubai, as No.10 seed Petra Martic faces Barbora Strycova and No 16 seed and defending champion Elise Mertens faces Wang Qiang for the second week running.
Mertens, who captured her biggest career singles title last year in Qatar, could be slated for a match against No 4 seed Bencic and others against either No 5 seed Svitolina or No 9 seed and doubles partner Aryna Sabalenka later in the draw should the seeds hold. Rounding out the bottom half of the draw is the quarter anchored by No 2 seed Halep, who was runner-up to Mertens last year.
Into the final this week in Dubai against Rybakina, Halep will face either Anett Kontaveit or Anastasija Sevastova in her first match, while No 7 seed Bertens, returning after taking a week off following her win in at the St. Petersburg Ladies’ Trophy, will face either Karolina Muchova or recent Hua Hin champion Magda Linette up first.
The action in the main draw gets underway tomorrow.
Top 8 seeds: Ashleigh Barty, Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova, Belinda Bencic, Elina Svitolina, Sofia Kenin, Kiki Bertens and Petra Kvitova.
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