The Chinese trio of Zhang Shuai, Zheng Saisai and Xinyu Wang headline the singles entry list at the 24th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge that is to be played in Dubai from November 21.
Played at the picturesque courts of the Habtoor Grand Resort and Spa, the oldest professional tennis tournament for women in the region will see a singles’ draw of 32 players and a doubles’ draw of 16 vying for the ultimate champions’ trophies when the event concludes on Saturday.
The tournament’s first 10 players are all ranked within the top 150 on the WTA Rankings.
First held in 1998, the annual event is now classified as a $100,000+H tournament on the ITF Women’s Circuit. The tournament began as a $25,000 ITF competition and was then classified as a $75,000 event from 1999 to 2015.
Since 2016, this competition has been upgraded to a $100,000+H ITF event with some of the biggest names from professional women’s tennis making an appearance.
Last year, Sorana Cirstea became the second successive Romanian player to win the singles crown when she got the better of Czech girl Katerina Siniakova in three sets (4-6, 6-3, 6-3).
Ana Bogdan had breezed past Daria Snigur 6-1, 6-2 to take the 2019 title. In 2014, Alexandra Dulgheru had become the first Romanian to win when she got the better of Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-3, 6-4.
This year’s tournament promises to an engrossing affair led by the two Chinese who are ranked No. 1 and 3 for China and No. 58 and 87 on the WTA Tour. Wang Xinyu, who is currently ranked No. 107, will be the third Chinese player featuring in the top 10 here.
Zhang had a career-high ranking of world No. 23 in November 2016, while she achieved her career-high doubles ranking of No .8 in the doubles in October this year.
In a career that included a quarter-final appearance at the 2016 Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2019, Zhang has so far won 24 singles titles, of which 20 are on the ITF Circuit and two on the WTA Tour.
Now 32, Zhang also has another 19 doubles titles to her name, including the 2019 Australian Open and the 2021 US Open, on both occasions partnering Australia’s Samantha Stosur.
Zheng Sai Sai will be seeded No. 2 here. The 27-year-old has won one WTA singles title, five WTA doubles titles while reaching the final of the 2019 French Open in doubles with compatriot Duan Yingying.
A regular on the Chinese Fed Cup team, Zheng reached her career-high singles ranking of world No. 34 in the first week of March 2020, while she peaked at No. 15 in the doubles’ rankings in the first half of July 2016.
The main draw action will get under way with the opening round from Monday (November 22). The qualifying rounds that started on Sunday morning will see eight qualifiers going through into the main draw. The competition will conclude with the singles final on November 27.
The top four seeded players took a step closer to qualifying to the main draw at the end of day one on Sunday.
Top seed Julia Grabher of Austria toyed with Hong Kong’s Kwan Yau Ng to register a swift 6-1, 6-1 win, while second seed Anastasia Zakharova was equally quick in her 6-1, 6-4 win over Belarussian Lidziya Marozava.
Seeded third in the qualifying rounds, long-time Dubai entrant Kateryna Bondarenko from Ukraine had to dig in deep for a 5-7, 6-2, 10-5 win against China’s Shuyue Ma and set up a second round meeting with Great Britian’s Eden Silva.
Fourth seed Oksana Selekhmeteva of Russia also went through as she eased her way past Germany’s Vivian Heisen 6-2, 6-3 and earn the right to play Peangtarn Plipuech of Thailand. Equally emphatic was Raluca Georgiana Serban as she blanked Turkish wild card Georgiana Raluca Serban 6-0, 6-0 in just 39 minutes.
The second round of qualifying will continue on Monday morning along with a handful of matches from the main draw.