Former champs, first-timers eye glory in Qatar Total Open
February 23 2020 01:25 AM
Australia’s Ashleigh Barty is the top seed in Qatar. (AFP)

By Sports Reporter/Doha

A quintet of former champions and a new wave of ambitious young aspirants — some of them playing for the first time in Doha — are all set for a fascinating battle for supremacy when the Qatar Total Open gets underway at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex today.
Reigning champion Elise Mertens of Belgium, 2018 winner Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, her compatriot Karolina Pliskova who took the title in 2017, and 2016 conqueror Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain will be joined by the forgotten Russian star Vera Zvonareva, who triumphed in 2011 and is making a comeback of sorts at age 35 after being given a wildcard, will be aiming for their second title in Doha.
But such is the depth in the women’s game that their path to possible glory is certainly not strewn with roses all the way.
With World No 2 Simona Halep withdrawing yesterday after claiming the title in Dubai with a three-sets victory over Elena Rybakina, the Qatar Total Open has an even more open look. The feisty Romanian had been a consistent performer in Doha, winning the title in 2014 and reaching the final last year when she lost to Mertens.
Ashleigh Barty may be the official favourite considering her World No 1 ranking, but she is playing for the first time this year after losing to Sofia Kenin of the US in the semi-finals of the Australian Open.
She missed the preceding tournament in Dubai with a foot injury and it remains to be seen how well she has recovered.
But she is enjoying a bye in the first round and will be playing her first match only on Tuesday and that too against a qualifier, a lucky loser or Kazakhstan’s Yaroslava Shvedova, who has not played a singles match in two years after giving birth to twins in 2018.
Intriguingly, Barty could run into Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan in the round of 16, which would be a rematch of their third round at the Australian open where the 23-year-old Aussie triumphed in two sets.
Just 20, the Russian-born Rybakina has already won two titles and reached her fourth final in five tournaments in Dubai where she was showered with praise by Halep yesterday. “Crazy emotions to be honest, it’s been a great match, so I really want to congratulate my opponent Elena, she played really, really well. She’s so young so she has many years ahead to play at the highest level so good luck and well done for this beautiful tournament that you played,” said Halep on court.
Incidentally, both Rybakina and Barty are making their Qatar debuts, along with the US duo of Kenin, the Australian Open champion, and Jennifer Brady, another player to watch out for.
Women’s tennis has come a long way in the last few years with the result that predicting outcomes has become a perilous task. The last five women’s Grand Slams, for instance, have been won by five different players.
Before winning the Australian Open title, Kenin’s best show at a Grand Slam was reaching the round of 16 at Roland Garros last year. Six of the to-10 seeds at the Australian Open, including Serena Williams and holder Naomi Osaka, went out in round three in Melbourne.
Last year’s Grand Slam titles were won by Osaka (Australian Open), Barty (French Open), Halep (Wimbledon) and Bianca Andreescu (US Open).
This year’s Qatar Total Open is one of the biggest tournaments outside the four Grand Slams. Over the years though, it has largely played by the script.
In its past 17 editions, the event has been won 12 times by players inside the top-10 rankings. Two times it has been won by unseeded players — Lucie Safarova in 2015 and Mertens last year.
Will this year see a new champion? We will know in a week.

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