Following weeks of exhilarating tennis Down Under, the WTA tour now shifts to Doha, Qatar. The 2021 Qatar Open is set to host several top names of the women’s game, including defending champion Aryna Sabalenka and last year’s finalist Petra Kvitova.
Fellow top 10 players Elina Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova also feature in a highly competitive field. With main draw action set to begin on Monday, here’s a look at the prospects of the top names in the fray.
Top half: Big names look to topple defending champ Aryna Sabalenka
Expected semifinal: Elina Svitolina vs Aryna Sabalenka
Analysis: Top seed Elina Svitolina has been handed a bye in the opening round, but could face the big-hitting Amanda Anisimova in the Round of 16. The Ukrainian had in fact fallen to Anisimova at the same stage of this tournament last year, and will enter the contest looking to avenge that loss.
The projected quarterfinal opponent for Svitolina is likely to be decided by the outcome of the Svetlana Kuznetsova vs Victoria Azarenka first round match. Azarenka has done well here in the past, and a good win in the opener could bolster her confidence.
Defending champion Aryna Sabalenka also features in the top half of the draw. The Belarusian is set to be tested at the very first step, as she is likely to face Garbine Muguruza – provided the Spaniard can first take care of the in-form Veronika Kudermetova.
Sabalenka’s section comes across as the most competitive, with the likes of Maria Sakkari, Madison Keys and Belinda Bencic also featuring here. The three women, alongside Mayar Sherif, will battle it out for the coveted last eight spot.
Predicted semifinal: Elina Svitolina vs Garbine Muguruza
Dark horse: Victoria Azarenka
Bottom half: Czech duo of Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova lead the pack
Expected semifinal: Petra Kvitova vs Karolina Pliskova
Analysis: Third seed Petra Kvitova is set to open her campaign against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who should be expected to register a win against a qualifier in the first round.
Kvitova is looking to recover from a slow start to the season in Australia, where she struggled to find her range behind the first serve. The Czech has had her fair share of success in Qatar, but will need to find some quick answers to the issues plaguing her game currently.
Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady, meanwhile, faces Anett Kontaveit in a tough first round. The winner of that match will fancy their chances in a prospective second rounder against Angelique Kerber, who is still looking to find her footing after a poor couple of seasons.
Ons Jabeur will enjoy huge support from the crowds in Qatar. The Tunisian would be looking to replicate her run from last year, where she made it to the quarterfinals with upset wins over Jennifer Brady and Karolina Pliskova.
Jabeur could face Pliskova in the second round of the tournament this year too. And given the Czech’s recent form, a repeat of the upset is definitely on the cards.
Predicted semifinal: Petra Kvitova vs Ons Jabeur
Dark horse: Jennifer Brady
Notable first round matches
Svetlana Kuznetsova vs Victoria Azarenka
Veronika Kudermetova vs Garbine Muguruza
Madison Keys vs Belinda Bencic
Jennifer Brady vs Anett Kontaveit