Kristina Mladenovic 1 web-1701432674391
Doubles specialist Kristina Mladenovic will be eager to add the Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge to her cabinet. The 26th edition of the annual event begins this weekend. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Former two-time singles Grand Slam finalist Vera Zvonareva will join multiple doubles champion Kristina Mladenovic and Germany’s Sabine Lisicki as the three wild cards for the 26th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge, which gets under way this week.

Now 39, Zvonareva has been among the top performers on the WTA Tour while reaching her career-best world No 2 in October 2010 when she won back-to-back singles finals at Wimbledon and the US Open during the season.

A former world No 10 in singles, most of Mladenovic’s success came in the doubles. The 30-year-old so far has six women’s doubles titles — four at the French Open and two at the Australian Open. She has also won two Australian Open and one Wimbledon mixed doubles trophies.

Top contenders

The stage is set for the annual tournament that will get under way with the qualifying rounds at the Habtoor Grand Resort’s tennis courts, from Sunday.

Following Friday’s deadline for confirmations, Slovakia’s Viktoria Hruncakova is leading the way as the top seed along with a pack of talented youngsters including 2021 champion Daria Snigur, India’s No 1 Ankita Raina and former British No 1 Heather Watson.

The initial tournament line-up had earlier featured last year’s finalists Elsa Jacquemot and Magdalena Frech, but both pulled out owing to other commitments on the WTA Tour during the week.

“No doubt, we will be missing our defending champion Elsa [Jacquemot] and losing finalist Magdalena [Frech]. But this current line-up is possibly the best gathering of talented players we can accommodate during this week as players head into their pre-season preparations,” Tournament Director Noura Badawi said.

Huge week for sport

“Considering the names, we can surely look forward to a high level of tennis during the course of the week.”.

Meanwhile, some of the players have already landed and started their preparations for the qualifying rounds, to begin at Habtoor Grand Hotel’s tennis courts at 10am on Sunday.

“We enter a huge week for sport in the UAE, and the Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge is one of the many tournaments happening. We have got everything sorted out for yet another successful competition,” said Laith Al Ani, Director of Operations and Chief of Officials at AHTC.

First held in 1998, the long list of past champions includes former Grand Slam winners and top players including Sorana Cirstea (2020), Ana Bogdan (2019), Peng Shuai (2018), Belinda Bencic (2017), Kimiko Date-Krumm (2012), Sania Mirza (2010), Maria Kirilenko (2007), Kateryna Bondarenko (2006), Marion Bartoli (2005), Jelena Jankovic (2003) and inaugural winner Kyra Nagy (1998).