Australian open champion Sofia Kenin holds the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup
Australian open champion Sofia Kenin holds the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup Image Credit: AP

Dubai: The return of former world number one Kim Clijsters and the presence of Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin will be among the top highlights as Dubai gets ready to host the 20th edition of the Dubai Duty Free Women’s Open this week.

Winner of 41 career singles titles and 11 career doubles titles, the former world No.1 and four-time singles Grand Slam champion, Clijsters will be one of three wild cards at the Dubai tournament that gets under way with the qualifying rounds on Saturday.

This will be the second comeback for the 36-year-old Belgian, who tweeted her return on February 9. “Since announcing my return, there have been a few bumps but looking forward to returning to the match court and what this next chapter brings ... Thanks to all my fans for their encouragement these past weeks. See you in Dubai!” Clijsters said in her tweet.

Kim Clijsters announced her return on Twitter on Sunday
Kim Clijsters announced her return on Twitter on Sunday Image Credit: Kim Clijsters Twitter

The Belgian first made a successful return to the WTA in 2009, winning three of her four major titles - the US Open (2009 and 2010) and the Australian Open (2011) - after losing her first four grand slam finals. Clijsters had announced her return to professional tennis after an eight-year break, in September 2019. She had hoped to play at the Australian Open, but a knee injury kept her away.

While claiming her 2009 US Open win, Clijsters became the third WTA player to win a major after giving birth, following Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong. She later returned to the No. 1 spot on February 14, 2011.

Clijsters made her WTA debut when just 15 at the re-launched Flanders Women’s Open in Antwerp in May 1999. She entered the main draw as a lucky loser, and advanced to the quarter-finals after registering her first professional match win against Miho Saeki.

After winning her first major in 2005 at the US Open, Clijsters stepped away from tennis in May 2007, marrying US basketball player Brian Lynch and giving birth to their daughter Jada in 2008. She also has two sons, Jack (born in 2013) and Blake (born in 2016).

Sofia Kenin savours her moment in Melbourne

Kenin will be the next big attraction during the course of the week. Though born in Moscow, Kenin became the youngest American to win a Grand Slam women’s singles title since Serena Williams in 2002. So far, the 21-year-old who was named the WTA Most Improved Player of the Year in 2019, has won four titles on the WTA.

Besides these attractions, the women’s competition will see six of the top-10 players, including Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina, Belinda Bencic and Kiki Bertens. The men’s tournament has attracted nine of the top-20 players, including eight-time champion Roger Federer, recent Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Gael Monfils alongside exciting youngsters Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov.

The singles draw for qualifying in the women’s competition that will commence on Saturday morning, will consist of 48 players paving the way for six players to make it into the main draw. Only the top two will receive a first round bye.

Owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free, the two weeks consist of a WTA Premier 5 women’s event that marks its 20th anniversary, followed by the ATP 500 men’s tournament that celebrates its 28th edition next week.