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Elina Svitolina outside the QE2 in Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Two-time champion Elina Svitolina has accepted a wild card into the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and is eagerly looking forward to making her bid to reclaim the title she surrendered last year to Belinda Bencic. Fans can watch the world No. 4 for only Dh55 for the first three days of the tournament, which gets under way on  February 17 and features one of the best fields ever to compete in the 20 years of the WTA Tour event.

A year ago, Svitolina attempted to become the first woman to win the title in three consecutive seasons but fell short when she was defeated in the semi-finals by Bencic, who this week is celebrating her climb to a career-high No. 5 in the world.

Despite that disappointment she could look back with pride on what was another outstanding season. Svitolina had begun it by reaching the Australian Open quarter-finals before losing to eventual champion Naomi Osaka, and after reaching the semi-finals in Doha and she reached the semi-finals at Indian Wells. A nagging knee problem then led to her losing her opening match in Miami and to her taking a break from competition to let it heal.

It took her a while to get back into top gear as she lost in the first round in Madrid, and then in Rome where she was also the two-time defending champion, and although she reached the third round at Roland Garros she fell in the first round both in Birmingham and Eastbourne. But she was clearly back to her best at Wimbledon where she reached the first Grand Slam semi-final of her career before losing eventual champion Simona Halep.

Tennis
Svitolina has fought her way back to form after injury

“Everyone was watching other matches, other players,” she said after her run to the final four. “Before, like going into Roland-Garros a couple of times, I had lots of expectations, lots of pressure. Here I just had probably the pressure from myself. I handled it pretty good. It was just about trying to find my game, trying to enjoy. Yeah, don't think too much about what can happen.”

More good things were to come, as after reaching the quarter-finals in Toronto by avenging her Dubai defeat by Bencic, she advanced all the way to the semi-finals of the US Open, falling there to Serena Williams. She ended the season with quarter-finals in Wuhan and Beijing before enjoying a run all the way to the final of the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, defeating Sofia Kenin, Halep and world number two Karolina Pliskova in the Group Stage before beating Bencic again in the semi-finals. It took world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty to deny her the title.

She will now be looking to kick start her season after falling in the first round in Brisbane and then losing in the third round of the Australian Open to eventual finalist Garbine Muguruza.

“We have enjoyed many fine performances from Elina Svitolina and are delighted to welcome her to Dubai once again,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “Although she was unable to claim her third title here last year she will once again be a favourite to lift the trophy.”

Tournament director Salah Tahlak added, “Elina Svitolina will certainly be a leading contender for the title, even though she faces a field that includes so many other members of the top 10 who are just as eager as her to claim the trophy. She has often shown though that she is one of the toughest competitors on the WTA Tour and we very much look forward to seeing her again.”

Ashleigh Barty

Australian Open semi-finalist Ashleigh Barty has been forced to withdraw with an injury, but the 20th anniversary celebrations of the WTA event still includes three reigning Grand Slam champions.

The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships begins with the WTA event which runs from February 17-22 and features Wimbledon winner Simona Halep, US Open champion Bianca Andreescu and Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin. The tournament then continues between February 24-29 with the ATP event which stars reigning Australian Open and Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic, eight-time Dubai champion Roger Federer, 2019 ATP Finals winner Stefanos Tsitsipas and 2018 Dubai champion Roberto Bautista Agut.

Tickets for the tournament are available at www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com