The WTA tour moves from Dubai to Doha next week for the Qatar Open. As the two tournaments swap tier each year, Doha is a Premier 5 tournament with plenty of ranking points up for grabs. Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have both withdrawn from the tournament, but it’s still packed with seven of the world’s top ten. I’m excited, as you can imagine, about one player returning in Doha. Note that the main draw begins on SUNDAY and qualifiers will be placed tonight (Saturday). Let’s take a look at the draw…
Doha Seeds 1-8
Angelique Kerber (1): The Australian Open champion (it’s still taking some time to process in my head) takes her place at the top of the drawsheet in Doha. Since that triumphant day in Melbourne, Kerber went 1-1 in Fed Cup action two weeks ago with a comprehensive win over Bacsinszky, but a third consecutive loss against Bencic. It was a smart move from Kerber to pull out of Dubai to rest up following the physically and emotionally taxing start to the year. It will be super intriguing to see how Kerber handles everything now as a Grand Slam champ and also, as the number one seed in a high-profile draw. Her first match of the week will be against the winner of a Dubai qualifying rematch between Saisai Zheng and Varvara Lepchenko
Simona Halep (2): 2016 has not been a happy hunting round for the Romanian world number three. Halep has won just three matches this year and lost her first match in Dubai to Ana Ivanovic, 6-7(2) 2-6. She was playing some decent tennis in the first set but was unable to take advantage of a set point, losing her way afterwards against a sharp performance from the Serb. In Doha, Halep’s first match of the week will be against a qualifier or Dubai semi-finalist, Caroline Garcia. Halep played Garcia in her first match of 2016, winning through in three sets, 6-4 2-6 6-1.
Agnieszka Radwanska (3): Playing her first tournament since the Australian Open, Radwanska returns to the WTA tour after skipping Dubai because of a leg injury. The world number four has made some smart scheduling decisions this year; she pulled out of Sydney as a precaution and then Dubai too. Radwanska has often just played on and on, but seems to have taken a more proactive approach this year to concentrate on the bigger events. It has paid off so far with one title in Shenzhen and a run to the semi-finals in Melbourne. Her only loss of the year came to a razor-sharp, Serena Williams… not too shabby. Radwanska’s first match in Doha will be against Annika Beck or a qualifier; while she did lose her last match against Beck in the first round of the French Open, this is a favourable draw.
Garbiñe Muguruza (4): It’s been a rough start to the year for Muguruza who has won just four matches. She suffered a surprising second round loss to Elina Svitolina in Dubai, falling, 6-7(3) 3-6 in a tactically muddled and wayward performance that featured 68 unforced errors. Muguruza admitted in press that she is struggling to find her game and even suggested she might pull out of Doha. The foot injury that forced her to pull out of Brisbane may still be a concern. Her first match in Doha will be against either Yaroslava Shvedova or Nao Hibino… not easy.
Doha Seeds 5-8
Petra Kvitova (5): It’s depressing to write about the top ten players right now… Kvitova’s won just one match in 2016 against none other than Luksika Kumkhum. The confidence just isn’t there right now with Kvitova losing her first match in Dubai against Madison Brengle in a head-twister of a scoreline, 6-0 6-7(3) 3-6. Kvitova plays Dubai finalist, Barbora Strycova or Kristina Mladenovic in what will be a tricky second rounder. I’m still waiting for that truly Petra moment where she snaps into form… it doesn’t look likely right now but you just never know…
Belinda Bencic (6): The number six seed! Bencic has established herself as a top seed at a high profile tournament. After reaching the final in St. Petersburg, Bencic fell at the first hurdle in Dubai, losing her first three setter in 16 matches to Jelena Jankovic in an entertaining tussle, 6-4 5-7 4-6. The Swiss player was clearly fatigued having played Fed Cup and St. Petersburg back-to-back. Bencic should be reasonably well rested for Doha where she has a curious draw. First up could be CoCo Vandeweghe (1-1 H2H record) followed by a potential third rounder from an intriguing section of the draw that hosts Karolina Pliskova, Andrea Petkovic and Ekaterina Makarova.
Lucie Safarova (7): The sight of Lucie in the Doha draw is beauuuuutiful! It’s been a horrible few months for Safarova who was first sidelined during the Asian Swing due to a bacterial infection and then suffered complications during the off-season, resulting in her pulling the ripcord for the Aussie swing. Finally, Lucie’s well enough to compete and is back with coach, Rob Steckley. The Czech player has been practising in Doha for almost two weeks where she returns as the defending champion! It’s going to be a tough ask for Lucie, coming in ‘cold’ but i’m just chuffed to see her back. Her first match of the week will be against either Lucie Hradecka or Cagla Buyukakcay.
Carla Suárez Navarro (8): The Spaniard rounds out the top eight seeds who all have byes into the second round. After a decent start to the year down under with a semi-final showing in Brisbane and a quarter-final appearance in Melbourne, Suárez Navarro helped her team to the win in Fed Cup, overcoming Jelena Jankovic in straight sets. However, a loss in her first match of the week in Dubai against Caroline Garcia, from a set and a break up, was less than ideal. Her first match in Doha will be against the resident wildcard, Fatma Al Nabhani or a qualifier.
Other players to watch out for…
Eugenie Bouchard: Through the first two weeks of the season, no player won more matches than Bouchard. After a second round loss to Radwanska at the Australian Open, Bouchard plummeted to number 61 in the rankings. However, the upside is that she is now she’s defending barely anything up to the US Open. Bouchard plays a qualifier in the first round, potentially followed by the number 15 seed, Elina Svitolina in the second round. While Bouchard has a 0-3 record against Svitolina, she could get a helping hand from Denisa Allertova who is a dangerous first round opponent for Svitolina.
Sara Errani: While sure to be tired, the Dubai finalist has a decent draw in Doha. This could pass by players she beat in Dubai; Madison Brengle is a potential second round opponent and Yaroslava Shvedova, perhaps in the third round. Errani’s first match will be against Tsvetana Pironkova. If she’s got anything left in the tank, she may be the one to sweep through a section spearheaded by the vulnerable. Muguruza.
Andrea Petkovic: The most exciting section of the draw is at the bottom of the second quarter in Bencic’s eighth. Petkovic, who had a decent run to the quarter-finals in Dubai, opens against Ekaterina Makarova. Petkovic has won all three previous matches and the Russian player was off-radar in a jarring first round loss to Madison Brengle in Dubai. Petkovic or Makarova will play the winner of a flashy first round match between Karolina Pliskova and Margarita Gasparyan. I’d like Petko, playing with more confidence and enjoyment right now, to have another solid week.
Daria Kasatkina: The 18-year-old has been very impressive in 2016 and she’s my one slightly wild pick to reach the quarter-finals (pre-qualifier placement!). If she gets past a qualifier in the first round, she could play Roberta Vinci in the second round. Newly crowned as a top ten player and having recently celebrated her birthday, I wonder whether Vinci will be 100% focused in Doha. The Italian player has won just one match in Doha in three previous appearances and that was via a retirement.
Doha tweets and videos
Considering i’m normally quite woolly when it comes to making final predictions, this was actually a routine decision. Radwanska has a great draw and I really like the way she has scheduled this year. A leg injury is still a minor concern but if she can get a few wins under the belt, the draw is there for her to go all the way. Bencic is my finalist; she feels a reliable pick amongst a sea of uncertainty and while she lost first round in Dubai, the upside of this is that she should be reasonably fresh for Doha.