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From left: Wild card Monika Kilnarova, Nasser Al Marzouqi, Kristine Mladenovic, Khalaf Al Habtoor and Dalma Galfi at the formal announcement of the 21st Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge. Image Credit: Alaric Gomes/Gulf News

Dubai: Top seed Kristina Mladenovic is hoping to be third time lucky when she starts her campaign at this week’s 21st Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge (AHTC) being held at the Habtoor Grand Beach Resort and Spa.

A former world number 10, Mladenovic lost to Noppawan Lertcheewakarn in 2011 — the same year she became the first Frenchwoman since Marion Bartoli to win a WTA title while clinching the St Petersburg Ladies Open. Mladenovic made her debut in Dubai as a 17-year-old in 2010 where her campaign was cut short by Evgeniya Rodina in the second round.

Back this year, the Frenchwoman heads a star-studded line-up as the top seed and she will start her campaign against Natalia Vikhlyantseva, a losing finalist in 2016.

The $100,000 (Dh367,300) tournament, part of the ITF Women’s Circuit, has traditionally attracted some of the top players in the past including the likes of Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, Sania Mirza, Marion Bartoli and Maria Kirilenko.

Khalaf Al Habtoor, chairman of the Habtoor Group, was joined by Nasser Al Marzouqi, general secretary of Tennis Emirates, tournament director Noura Al Badawi and some of the top-seeded players at the announcement of draws for this year’s tournament.

Strong field

“This is the perfect week for me to get into the rhythm. The goal always is to come back to the top of my game and see how much I can achieve to launch myself so that I can achieve something better during the new season,” Mladenovic told Gulf News.

“Once again there is a strong field of players and I have been really impressed with the strength of some of them coming through. Of course, on my part I will have to play at my best and see how I can get better as a player and take that one extra step where I can better my performance of last time [in 2011],” the 25-year-old top seed added.

This year will see a new champion as none of the former champions have confirmed their participation here. Leading the charge of challengers will be China’s Peng Shuai, a former two-time Grand Slam winner in doubles, India’s top-ranked Ankita Raina — who will be up against Australian Open junior champion Tereza Mihailikova, and world No 54 Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia who has been seeded No 2 here.

The final round of qualifiers will be held on Monday morning, after which the main draw action will get under way at the Habtoor Grand Beach Resort and Spa. The final will be played on December 15.