Simona Halep
Simona Halep Image Credit: AP

Dubai: A stunning line-up, headed by world No. 1 and French Open champion Simona Halep and featuring all four reigning Grand Slam winners as well as two-time defending champion Elina Svitolina. will be in action at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships next month.

The mouth-watering field also includes three previous Grand Slam champions as well as headline grabbers such as Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic, who recently partnered Roger Federer in the Hopman Cup where they triumphed for a second straight year. The fortnight begins with the WTA event, which takes place between February 17-23 and is followed by the ATP event from February 25 to March 2.

Halep will be especially interesting to follow as she attempts to cope with the first months of the season without a coach, after Darren Cahill stood down to spend more time with her family. She does though speak with him almost daily and he will no doubt still have a strong influence as she attempts to regain the Dubai title she claimed in 2015.

Angelique Kerber, who raced to the Wimbledon title in 2018 to add to the crowns she had previously won at the Australian and US Opens, is sure to be a strong contender again after reaching the semi-finals in the last two years. She will be challenged by 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki, who enjoyed another spell as world No. 1 last year to demonstrate that she is still as competitive as she was in claiming her Dubai title as long ago as 2011. And another strong contender is US Open champion Naomi Osaka, who has risen to superstardom since reaching the quarter-finals in Dubai last year.

Like Kerber, Osaka’s run to the Dubai title was ended by Svitolina, whose win in 2018 saw her join an exclusive list of players who have won the Dubai title twice in a row. In the 19-year history of the event, only two other players have defended their titles — Venus Williams, who won in 2009 and 2010, and Svitolina’s one time coach Justine Henin who retained her title twice. While Henin is still the most successful player in the event with a total of four titles to her name, Svitolina will return this year in a bid to become the first female player to win the coveted crown three years in a row.

Apart from Svitolina, Halep and Wozniacki, another former champion who is certain to be a strong challenger to regain her title is 2013 winner and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who has climbed back into the top 10 following an horrific attack upon her by an intruder at her home which kept her out of the game for a long period. She won an astonishing five titles during the 2018 season and having just won the Sydney International would love nothing more than to continue her title gathering in Dubai.

Yet another strong contender will be 2016 US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova, who has already proved herself in Dubai by defeating Ana Ivanovic and Garbine Muguruza on her way to the 2015 final where she fell to top seeded Halep. And she has started the 2019 season in fantastic form, regaining the Brisbane title that she first claimed in 2017.

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