Dubai: Thailand’s Noppawan Lertcheewakarn knows she has a “mountain to climb” when she starts the defence of her crown at the 15th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge, which is being held at the Habtoor Grand Beach Resort and Spa this week.
Lertcheewakarn sprung a surprise 7-5, 6-4 win over Kristina Mladenovic last year, in keeping with the women’s tournament dictum of “bringing today the stars of tomorrow”.
“This year, things are going to be tough for me as I will have to defend my points here,” Lertcheewakarn told Gulf News before the official draw of the competition was held on Sunday.
“It will be like a mountain to climb, but I know I can do it.”
Present at the draw was the losing finalist in 2011, Bojana Jovanovski, 2003 winner and former world number one Jelena Jankovic. Mohammad Al Mazroui, Managing Director of Al Habtoor Group, Tennis Emirates board member Zainab Al Ansari, ITF Supervisor Hani Al Khafief and Ivica Ancic, elder brother of former tennis star Mario Ancic and the new tournament director of this event, also attended the draw.
“It feels nice to be back in Dubai. Last year was my first time and I went home with a trophy. Hopefully, I can repeat the same this year as well,” said the 19-year-old Thai before she started the defence of her title against No 7 seed Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland.
Thailand has a strong presence in this competition, which begins on Monday, with Lertcheewakarn joined by veteran Tamarine Tanasugarn, Nudnida Luangnam and Luksika Kumkhum. “We’ve rented a condo here and all of us will be staying together during the week,” Lertcheewakarn said.
This year the tournament has three WTA top-100 players led by Romanian Irina Camelia Begu (No 52), along with Jovanovski (No 56) and Nina Bratchikova (No 81).
“There are some pretty interesting first-round matches lined up here and I would ask people to head here and watch some good tennis,” Jankovic said.
The main round of the competition will be held at the Habtoor Grand Beach Resort and Spa tennis courts from Monday after the final round of qualifiers are played earlier in the morning.
Beginning as an ITF $25,000 (Dh91,825) event in 1998, the Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge is currently classified as a $75,000 ITF Women’s Circuit Tournament.