Victoria Azarenka tops the bill for this week’s Qatar Open in Doha. This is the first main event in quite sometime where Caroline Wozniacki does not headline the draw. She is the number two seed and is joined by Samantha Stosur, Agnieszka Radwanska, Marion Bartoli, Vera Zvonareva, Francesca Schiavone and Jelena Jankovic as the top eight seeds who all have byes in the first round. There have been a number of withdrawals and many of the big stars such as Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters and Li Na have chosen not to play here so the draw is not as strong as it could be… this week’s title (and big ranking points) is really up for grabs.
Victoria Azarenka is projected to meet the number 7 seed, Francesca Schiavone in the quarter-finals. There were question marks as to whether Azarenka would play here and i’m not convinced she will be 100%. This time last year, she was at her lowest ebb having suffered a disappointing first round loss to Daniela Hantuchova but it could not be a different picture 12 months on. She could face Hantuchova once more in the third round, but may have to get past Mona Barthel in the second round in what is a testing draw. for the new world number one. Schiavone has looked woefully short of form in 2012 so far and could face an in-form Yanina Wickmayer in the second round. Wickmayer is somewhat of a nemesis for the Italian having won their last three matches and I think it will be early curtains for Schiavone.
In the second quarter, the number 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska is projected to meet the number 8 seed Jelena Jankovic in the quarter-finals. This is by far the weakest section of the draw and I would put all my money on Radwanska progressing from this section. She could face an Australian Open rematch with Julia Goerges in the 3rd round. Jankovic pulled out of Paris last week and I don’t think she will be a threat here despite having a favourable draw. She should meet Shahar Peer in the second round and then Peng Shuai in the third round; however I would fancy the winner of a first round match between Chanelle Scheepers and Christina McHale to have a deep run in this tournament.
The number 3 seed, Sam Stosur is lined up to meet the number 6 seed, Vera Zvonareva in the quarter-finals. Stosur seems to have a habit of drawing players early she struggles against as she could play her Australian Open conqueror, Sorana Cirstea in the second round. Cirstea has been in terrific form of late and lost a high quality semi-final to Maria Kirilenko in Pattaya City so the threat is there for all to see. Ana Ivanovic is likely to await the winner in the third round. Zvonareva has made a disappointing start to 2012 and will look to regain some form in Doha where she produced her best tennis last year beating Caroline Wozniacki ni the final. However I predict she will come unstuck against Flavia Pennetta; Pennetta has a tough first round draw with Dominika Cibulkova but I fancy the Italian to be dangerous this week.
Caroline Wozniacki is scheduled to meet the number 8 seed, Marion Bartoli in the final quarter of the draw. Bartoli has had an excellent, yet tiring week in Paris so I wouldn’t favour her to go deep this week. I would look to Sabine Lisicki to reach the quarter-finals who plays Angelique Kerber in the first round. Kerber beat Bartoli in a fantastic Paris final, 7-6 5-7 6-3 and I think that win will have taken too much out of her to be able to have a chance against her compatriot. Wozniacki has some difficult names to pass such as Lucie Safarova in the second round and then either Svetlana Kuznetsova or Zheng Jie in the third round, but I think the Dane will be strong this week and make it past these challenges.
Predicted Final: Agnieszka Radwanska d. Caroline Wozniacki
My head this week is telling me that Radwanska is the one to stop in Doha. The Pole has made a very solid start to the season and she was dominant at these type of events in the latter half of 2011 when many of the big stars did not play. Radwanska has a very favourable draw so i’m feeling confident that she will do well this week.
Watch out for… Ana Ivanovic who is my tip to reach the semi-finals. The Serbian player will play Carla Suarez Navarro in the first round and has a run through that screams potential for some upsets and more straightforward matches if she can avoid upsets herself! I also think that Flavia Pennetta, Yanina Wickmayer and Sabine Lisicki will all have good weeks and reach the quarter-finals.
Upset City: I see a number of early exits for the top seeds; I am predicting second round exits for Francesca Schiavone (to Yanina Wickmayer), Sam Stosur (to Sorana Cirstea), Svetlana Kuznetsova (to Zheng Jie) and Peng Shuai (to Christina McHale).