Dubai: Three former Grand Slam champions will continue their march back to the top of the game when the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships begins in just over a week.
Samantha Stosur, Ana Ivanovic and Li Na have all experienced the glory of lifting the trophy at the end of a Grand Slam event, one of the biggest dreams of any tennis player.
To come through a gruelling two weeks of tough competition with seven victories is the ultimate challenge, but maintaining that level of intensity can be even more demanding.
“Samantha Stosur, Ana Ivanovic and Li Na have all proved themselves not only to be great champions at the highest level of the game, but have shown great courage and fortitude in fighting back from adversity,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman of Tournament owners and organisers Dubai Duty Free.
“So far none of the three have managed to win the title here, but they are all clearly a threat in what is one of the strongest fields of players ever gathered at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships,” he added.
Stosur earned her place in the history books and a future spot in the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame when she reached the final of Roland Garros in 2010 and then in 2011 triumphed against Serena Williams in the final of the US Open to become the first Australian woman to win a Grand Slam since Evonne Goolagong way back in 1980.
Since then Stosur has failed to win another title, although she did go all the way to the finals of Osaka in 2011 and both Doha and Moscow in 2012. Now she will be hoping to end her title drought in Dubai, where in the last two years she has fallen to Jelena Jankovic in the quarter-finals.
Ivanovic was also a finalist at a Grand Slam before winning the title, losing to Maria Sharapova at the 2008 Australian Open before sweeping to the French Open title a few months later. That victory elevated her to number one in the world, but she soon succumbed to injury which in turn led to a dip in form and loss of confidence.
She has since been slowly rebuilding her career, currently under the guidance of top UK coach Nigel Sears, and after reaching the final of Indian Wells in 2009, winning the title in Linz in 2010 and twice becoming the winner of the Tournament of Champions in Bali she is once again knocking on the door of the world’s top 10.
Like Stosur, Ivanovic is still to advance beyond the quarter-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, a stage she has reached three times.
Li Na also reached a Grand Slam final before winning at the second attempt. The Chinese icon emulated Ivanovic by first reaching the final of the 2011 Australian Open before several months later claiming the crown at Roland Garros.
But she then suffered a massive meltdown as the pressure, expectations and demands on her from a nation of 1.3 billion people took their toll. During the rest of the 2011 she won just six matches, but she has been successful in bouncing back to once again establish herself near the top of the rankings.
After playing well enough in 2012 to reach the season-ending WTA Championships she has started 2013 in stunning form, winning her seventh career title in Shenzhen, advancing to the semi-finals in Sydney and reaching her second Australian Open final in straight sets before succumbing to world number one and defending champion Victoria Azarenka.
That has firmly established her as one of the main contenders for the title in Dubai, where she reached the quarter-finals in 2010 before having to retire with a back injury.
All three face a formidable challenge as strong as at any Grand Slam as they confront opponents such as defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska, Wimbledon, US Open and Olympic winner Serena Williams, reigning world number one and Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, former world number one and 2011 Dubai winner Caroline Wozniacki and 2011 Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, which takes place from February 18 to March 2, is owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free and held under the patronage of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.