Left: Anett Kontaveit, Ons Jabeur, Karolina Pliskova, Steve Simon CEO of WTA, Colm McLoughlin,Salah Tahlak, Nasser Al Marzouqi of Tennis Emirates, Ramesh Cidambi and Sinead El Sibai of Dubai Duty Free and Donna Kelso, WTA Tour Supervisor, during the draw ceremony today. Image Credit: Atiq-ur Rehman/Gulf News

Dubai: The return of Kim Clijsters, former world No 1 and four-time Grand Slam winner, to competitive tennis will not be an easy proposition as she has been drawn to face Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands in their opening round of the Dubai Duty Free Women’s Open to be held from Monday.

The draw ceremony on Saturday threw up a series of tough early encounters. Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, the fifth seed here, has been drawn to take on Kazakh girl Elena Rybakina also in the lower half of the draw.

Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, the third seed, will run into a tough encounter as she takes on wild card and Australian Open runner-up Garbine Muguruza while defending champion Belinda Benic will have to be her at her best when she takes on Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Tunisian Ons Jabeur — who has been in the news recently for right as well as wrong reasons — has also been handed out a wild card and will take on American Alison Riske. Jabeur became the toast of Tunisia after becoming the first Arab woman to make it to a Grand Slam singles quarter-finals in Australian Open.

The following week, the 25-year-old was at the receiving end for playing against Israel in the 2020 Fed Cup tournament. Tunisia won the tie but the Tunisian Foreign Ministry released a statement censuring the team for violating the historic commitment of Tunisia towards the Palestinian cause.

“I don’t want to talk about it [the issue]. As sportspersons, we are expected to play,” Jabeur remarked at the draw on Saturday.

“I have been proud of what I have achieved as a player particularly since the past few months. I feel very special here as this is another Arab country where I feel welcome. Of course, there is no pressure, except to go all the way and win this tournament,” she added.

Now ranked 45th, Jabeur is expecting a tough first one against Riske. “I now have a new team with me and they’ve done a great job during pre-season,” the Tunisian said.

“Based on this, I’ve set fresh goals for 2020 as I know I can work harder and play better. I want to be in the top-20 for sure by the end of the year,” she added.

“We couldn’t have asked for a tighter field this time. Over the past 20 years we’ve experienced tremendous growth in our retail business and in this tournament,” Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice-Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, noted in the presence of the new CEO of the WTA Steve Simon and Tournament Director Salah Tahlak.

The qualifying rounds got under way on Saturday and will continue till Monday morning when the six qualifiers will be known before the main draw start of play from 2pm.

The qualifying round draw was expanded from 32 to 48 by the WTA following the cancellation of the 2020 Hungarian Ladies Open. Consequently, there will be six qualifiers instead of the normal four — with the additional 16 spots being reserved for players who had been entered in Debrecen.