Participants and officials during the Al Habtoor Tennis Championship draw on Sunday. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Top seed Viktoria Hruncakova and second seed and former Dubai champion Daria Snigur have been handed out tough opening round draws at the 26th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge that got under way with first round qualifying at the Habtoor Grand Resort, on Sunday.

Slovakia’s Hruncakova — formerly going by her maiden surname Kuzmova — will meet Dalila Jakupovic of Slovenia, while Snigur — the 2021 champion at this tournament — will be up against Anastasia Zakharova at the lower end of the draw.

Khalaf Al Habtoor, founder and chairman of the Al Habtoor Group was in attendance with tournament director Noura Badawi and ITF Supervisor Sabine Schulz at the draw ceremony held at the Habtoor Grand Hotel in Dubai Marina, on Sunday.

“The Al Habtoor family supports sport, not just in the UAE but across the world. We carry the flag of the UAE all over. This tournament is special to us simply because this is the first women’s tennis event anywhere in the Gulf region,” Al Habtoor said.

“We want to see these young players do well on the professional tour. We are more than happy to give these players a stepping stone for the future,” he added.

Badawi thanked all the entire tournament staff led by Laith Al Ani, Director of Operations and Chief of Officials at AHTC, for making this event such a huge success since the past 25 years. “We are proud to stage a successful tournament here each year, and we are super proud that we have been able to provide playing opportunities to a long list of players, some of whom have gone on to even become world number ones,” Badawi noted.

Top seed Hruncakova will encounter one of the eight qualifiers in the second round, but will need to deal with some of the top players like Sabine Lisicki and Ekaterina Makarova as the competition progresses.

Snigur too will have to be at her sharpest as the 21-year-old has players like Timea Babos, Maria Timofeeva, Rebecca Sramkova, Vera Zvonareva and Kristina Mladenovic in her side of the draw.

Stefania Bojica eases past Slovakia's Nina Danisova 6-2, 6-3 in 99 minutes. Image Credit: Supplied

Third-seeded Rebecca Sramkova will face Natalija Stevanovic in her opening round, and is likely to encounter the experienced Heather Watson of Great Britain in the quarter-finals.

Qualifying to second round

Meanwhile, UAE-born Stefania Bojica led two British players into the second round of qualifying.

The 18-year-old Bojica, whose entry on the big stage of women’s tennis came at the Dubai Duty Free Women’s Open earlier this year, eased past Slovakia’s Nina Danisova 6-2, 6-3 in 99 minutes to set a meeting against eighth seed Peangtarn Plipuech of Thailand.

Born in the UAE, Bojica made history earlier this year after advancing as a wild card to the second round of qualifying with a straight-sets win against World No. 63 Danka Kovinic. However, she fell in the next round 6-2, 6-1 against Katarina Zavatska.

Also advancing to the second round on the opening day was the British pair of Emily Appleton and Sarah Beth Grey, both through easy wins — Appleton taking just 45 minutes to ease her way past Eva Busaad of Bulgaria, while Grey needed only 37 minutes for a double bagel against India’s Jigyasa Narsinghani.

Appleton will meet fourth seed Nika Radisic, while Grey will take on top seed Kateryna Volodko in their next round of qualifying.

“I am really happy with the win today as this is one of my favourite tournaments. It’s my third time here, but now it is more serious for me as I am trying to push my way through,” Appleton said.

“I would love to take each match one by one, playing the way I want to play and see where that gets me. An entry into the main draw looks good as a goal for this week,” she added.

Grey too was pleased with the ways she has adapted in Dubai. “I think I played really well. I was making a lot of returns, and I felt pretty good on the ball. The surface is pretty fast here and that is what I like since it suits my style of play,” Grey said.

“It was good to have some volume and get used to conditions as I have been playing indoors in Europe in the past few weeks. Overall, it was a good match [against Narsinghani]. At the moment, I do not want to have any goals as I just do my best, and if it works out, then it’s great. The field here is strong and I do not want to have too many expectations,” she added.

Play will continue with the second round of qualifying starting at 10am, on Monday. Spectators are welcome to come and watch some good women’s tennis at the Habtoor Grand Resort in Dubai Marina.

Round One of qualifying: Diletta Cherubini bt Eva Garkusha 6-4, 6-2; Ekaterina Yashina bt Coumba Ben Mamadou Niangadou 6-2, 6-3; Sarah Beth Grey bt Jigyasa Narsinghani 6-0, 6-0; Emily Appleton bt Eva Busaad 6-1, 6-0; Stefania Bojica bt Nina Danisova 6-2, 6-3; Alevtina Ibragimova bt Maja Radisic 6-2, 6-0.