After a month-long stay Down Under, the WTA tour shifts its focus to the Middle East. We will have the sixth WTA 500 event of the season taking place in Doha. The WTA Qatar Total Open will feature some of the best tennis players in the world competing in a 28-player singles draw.
Despite the absences of world no.1 Ashleigh Barty (leg injury), Simona Halep, Sofia Kenin, and newly crowned Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, the tournament still boasts four top 10 players in the draw. Adelaide champion Iga Swiatek has also pulled out of the event.
— Qatar Tennis Federation (@QatarTennis) February 27, 2021
2021 WTA Qatar Total Open
Top Half: Host of top names feature including Svitolina, Sabalenka, Azarenka, and Rybakina
Projected semifinal: Elina Svitolina (1) vs Aryna Sabalenka (3)
The top half of the draw is led by the top seed Elina Svitolina, who has a bye in the opening round. The Ukrainian, who is on a relationship hiatus, could play the dangerous Amanda Anisimova in her first match. This will be a rematch from last year. Svitolina lost in straight sets to the young American at the same stage last season and will be keen to gain revenge.
Victoria Azarenka is a two-time champion in Doha and is one of four wild cards. She begins her quest for a third title in these parts against veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia. The winner will likely meet big-serving Kazakh Elena Rybakina in the second round.
Reigning champion and #3 seed Aryna Sabalenka has a treacherous path in her bid to win back-to-back titles in Qatar. Sabalenka is aiming to follow the footsteps of her countrywoman Azarenka and become the second player to defend her crown in Doha. She has a bye in the first round, but a potential meeting against Garbine Muguruza awaits. The Spanish power-hitter faces Veronika Kudermetova in a testing first round encounter. And she will be without the services of her coach Conchita Martinez who tested positive for coronavirus.
I wanted to inform you that I have unfortunately tested positive for coronavirus. pic.twitter.com/PHJgSFtG9U
— Conchita Martínez (@conchitamartinz) February 27, 2021
If Sabalenka navigates her way into the quarterfinals, she could face Maria Sakkari. The Belarusian beat the Greek in the semifinals of the Abu Dhabi Open last month. Sabalenka owns a 4-1 record on head-to-head, taking the last four meetings.
Bottom half: Former champion Kvitova faces tough competition
Projected semifinal: Petra Kvitova (4) vs Ons Jabeur
Petra Kvitova leads the line in the bottom half of the draw. The Czech left-hander is one of the most decorated players in the 19-year history of the Qatar Open. The 2019 champion could meet Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round. But assuming the Russian will safely progress against a qualifier in her opener.
Then, things could get a little strenuous for Kvitova with the Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady lurking in her top section in the bottom half half.
The 25-year-old American has a tough opener, at least on paper. She plays Anett Kontaveit, with the winner potentially facing Angelique Kerber.
Brady and Kvitova can only meet in the quarters (the American trails 0-2 in their head-to-head).
In the second section, Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur is still yearning for a first WTA title, and how fitting would it be if she manages to win one on Arab soil. Jabeur scored a very impressive win over Karolina Pliskova in last year’s edition of the Qatar Open. This time, they will lock horns again in the same stage, if the North African will beat a qualifier in the first round.
Pliskova’s recent visit to the Middle East was at the Abu Dhabi Open last month where she suffered a catastrophic loss to world no.239 Anastasia Gasanova.
Kiki Bertens will play her first match of the 2021 season when she takes on wildcard Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.
Notable first round matches
Garbine Muguruza vs Veronika Kudermetova
Victoria Azarenka (WC) vs Svetlana Kuznetsova
Belinda Bencic (6) vs Madison Keys
Jennifer Brady (7) vs Anett Kontaveit
Main Photo from Getty.