Since Qatar Total Open began in 2001, only three players have captured the Falcon Trophy twice and defending champion Aryna Sabalenka faces a difficult challenge to emulate the elite group.
The third seeded Belarusian, who won the title after defeating two-time Grand Slam winner Petra Kvitova in last year’s final, yesterday got a tough draw for the prestigious tournament, which started with qualifying matches at the Khalifa International Tennis & Squash Complex.
The main round begins tomorrow and will continue till March 6. The 32-player list of the 19th edition of the tournament, carrying a total prize purse of $565,530, includes four of the World’s top-10 players.
The top four seeds, led by 2019 Wimbledon Open semi-finalist Elina Svitolina, 2017 champion Karolina Pliskova (2), Sabalenka and former champion Kvitova will start their campaigns in the second round after each of them got a bye in yesterday’s draw.
World No.8 Sabalenka, is expected to open her title defence against Spain’s Garbine Muguruza – a two-time major winner – who was drawn against Russia’s World No.34 Veronika Kudermetova in the first round.
The 22-year-old may face sixth seeded Swiss Belinda Bencic, a World No.11 or America’s World No.19 Madison Keys in the last 8, and possibly, Ukraine’s Svitolina, a World No.5 or two-time champion Victoria Azarenka, eighth seed, in the semi-final.
Anastasia Myskina (2003, 2004), Maria Sharapova (2005, 2008) and Azarenka (2012, 2013) are the only players who have clinched the prestigious title in Doha twice.
The other half of the draw is also expected to produce thrilling matches with Czech Pliskova likely to face Tunisian star Ons Jabeur, who will face a qualifier in the first round tomorrow.
“Doha is a special venue for me. This tournament gives me extra motivation because I have lot of good memories here,” Jabeur, considered as the most successful female Arab tennis player, told a video conference yesterday.
“I am practising here and It feels great,” the Tunisian – one of the players affected by Australian Open lockdown, said.
Meanwhile, fifth seed Kiki Bertens faces former World No.5 Jelena Ostapenko, a wild card entrant in her opening round match.
“It’s my first tournament in a long time, so for me it’s just to be able to compete again, see where my level is, get the rhythm again and try to and enjoying my time on the court again. So that’s my first goal,” Bertens, a former French Open semi-finalist said yesterday.
Also in the first round tomorrow, seventh seed Jennifer Brady, a World No.13 will take on Estonian Anett Kontaveit with eye on a possible second round clash against Germany’s Angelique Kerber, who will meet Turkey’s Cagla Buyukakcay, wild card entrant in the first round.
The two-day qualifying round will conclude today, setting the stage for main round action.