World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty leads seven of the world’s top-ten players into a packed Qatar Open field, live from Doha from 23-28 February.
The Qatar Open is the first Premier 5 tournament of the season, and it’s naturally attracting the cream of the WTA Tour.
Barty is back on the tour for the first time since the Australian Open after she withdrew from Dubai with a foot complaint. The world No. 1 is going after her second title of the season, but she will have to come through a challenging field that includes six other top ten players and six former champions.
Who will leave Doha as champion? We preview the Qatar Open draw.
Projected Quarter Final: Ashleigh Barty (1) vs Sofia Kenin (6)Other key Players: Elena Rybakina (14), Garbine Muguruza (11), Dayana Yastremska
Ashleigh Barty may get the chance to avenge her Australian Open semi-final defeat to Sofia Kenin, with both players drawn to meet in the quarter finals. Barty was the heavy favourite going into their Melbourne semi-final, and arguably to win the entire tournament at that point, but despite holding set points in both sets, the Australian couldn’t get over the line, losing 7-6 7-5 to the American.
There’s plenty of tennis to be played before a potential Barty-Kenin rematch. Following a first round bye, Barty opens against either a qualifier or Yaroslava Shvedova, who is playing her first WTA singles draw in over two years, following the birth of her twins in 2018.
Barty should be able to come through that, setting up a potential third round clash with the surging Elena Rybakina. It’s been a stunning start to the season for Rybakina, who is 19-3 for the season as at the time of writing, and has made at least the final in four of her five tournaments in 2020. However, one of Rybakina’s losses this season was against Barty in the third round of the Australian Open- the only tournament where she’s so far failed to reach the final this year.
Rybakina starts against Sorana Cirstea, and could face Polona Hercog or Alison Van Uytvanck in the second round.
Whoever gets through that Barty-Rybakina section is projected to meet Sofia Kenin in the last eight. Australian Open champion Kenin was beaten by Rybakina in Dubai last week, in her first WTA match since her Melbourne triumph. Kenin has been handed a very tough draw, which could see her face Dayana Yastremska in the second round, and Garbine Muguruza in the third, in what would be a rematch of the Australian Open final.
Predicted Quarter Final: Ashleigh Barty vs Garbine Muguruza
Semi-Finalist: Ashleigh Barty
Projected Quarter Final: Karolina Pliskova (3) vs Petra Kvitova (8)
Other key players: Petra Martic (10), Alison Riske (13)
World No. 3, Karolina Pliskova leads the second quarter, as she bids for a second title at the tournament. The 2017 champion already has one title this season, from Brisbane in the opening week of the year, but she has had a couple of quiet tournaments, losing to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round of the Australian Open, and falling to Elena Rybakina in the quarter finals in Dubai. Can she launch another deep run this week in Doha?
Pliskova gets a bye into the second round, where she opens her campaign against a qualifier or former world No. 4, Caroline Garcia. By reputation, Garcia appears tricky, but the 48th ranked Frenchwoman has not been playing well for some time now, and has not won back-to-back matches since June last year. If Pliskova powers through the out-of-form Garcia, she is projected to meet Alison Riske in the third round. Riske could be challenged by compatriot, Jennifer Brady, a semi-finalist in Dubai, in the first round and wildcard Ons Jabeur, whom she lost to in Dubai, in the second round.
On the other side of this quarter is another former champion, Petra Kvitova, who is looking to add a second title to her 2018 triumph. Seeking her first title since last April (Stuttgart), Kvitova starts her campaign against a qualifier or another former champion, Carla Suarez Navarro in the second round, while Dubai semi-finalist, Petra Martic is a possible third round opponent. Martic begins against Barbora Strycova, and could run into 2016 finalist, Jelena Ostapenko in the second round.
Predicted Quarter Final: Karolina Pliskova vs Petra Martic
Semi-Finalist: Karolina Pliskova
Projected Quarter Final: Elina Svitolina (5) vs Belinda Bencic (4)Other key players: Aryna Sabalenka (9), Elise Mertens (16)
Elina Svitolina and Belinda Bencic are the highest ranked players in the third quarter, but neither player has had a convincing start to the season.
Svitolina and Bencic are still seeking their first semi-finals of the year, and with the likes of defending champion, Elise Mertens and hard-hitting Belarusian, Aryna Sabalenka housed in this quarter, that wait may well continue beyond Doha.
Svitolina has lost her last two matches, to Nao Hibino in the Hua Hin quarter finals, and to Jennifer Brady in her Dubai opener; and she could be in early trouble again in Doha as she opens against Amanda Anisimova or Ekaterina Alexandrova in the second round. Alexandrova in particular has been very good and consistent this season, winning the Shenzhen title and reaching the semi-finals in St. Petersburg in her most recent outing.
If Svitolina survives, her route won’t get any easier, as she could crash into Sabalenka in the third round. Sabalenka also has some early work to get through, as she starts against Iga Swiatek and could square off against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round.
Like Svitolina, Bencic, who headlines the other side of this quarter, arrives Doha on a two-match losing streak, having fallen to Maria Sakkari in the quarter finals in St. Petersburg, and to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the opening round in Dubai. Following a first round bye, the Swiss will start her campaign against either Veronika Kudermetova or Kristina Mladenovic, before a potential third round meeting with defending champion, Elise Mertens, if she gets that far.
Mertens claimed the Doha title in spectacular fashion last season, but she faces a tough title defence this week, opening against China’s Qiang Wang, just a few days after the Chinese inflicted a 6-3 6-0 defeat on the Doha champion in Dubai. If Mertens gets her revenge, she will meet either Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Yulia Putintseva in the second round, and could face Bencic in the third round.
Predicted Quarter Final: Aryna Sabalenka vs Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Semi-Finalist: Aryna Sabalenka
Projected Quarter Final: Simona Halep (2) vs Kiki Bertens (7)
Other key players: Marketa Vondrousova (12), Maria Sakkari (15), Donna Vekic
Finalist in Dubai at the time of writing, Simona Halep headlines the bottom half of the Doha draw, where she is bidding for her second title. Halep was champion in Doha back in 2014, beating Angelique Kerber in the final, while she returned to the final last season, but fell to Mertens in the title match.
After an ordinary finish to last season, when she failed to win consecutive matches in any of her last five tournaments, Halep has made a much better start to 2020, opening with a quarter final in Adelaide, before reaching the semis at the Australian Open and the final in Dubai. She will be looking to maintain that form in Doha, where she opens against either Anett Kontaveit or Anastasija Sevastova in the second round.
If Halep finds a way past the powerful Kontaveit or the crafty Sevastova, she is projected to meet Maria Sakkari in the third round, but the Greek has her work cut out in a very open section of the draw, which also includes Julia Goerges, whom she faces in the first round, and Donna Vekic, a possible second round opponent.
Halep remains the big favourite to reach the quarter finals, where St. Petersburg champion, Kiki Bertens could be waiting. After skipping last week’s tournament in Dubai, Bertens returns to action this week as she attempts to build on her St. Petersburg success. The Dutchwoman begins her Doha bid against Karolina Muchova or Hua Hin champion, Magda Linette, while last year’s French Open finalist, Marketa Vondrousova headlines the list of potential third round opponents for the seventh seed.
Vondrousova is only just regaining her feet on the tour after missing the second half of last season due to a wrist injury.
Predicted Quarter Final: Simona Halep vs Kiki Bertens
Semi-Finalist: Simona Halep
Ashleigh Barty vs Karolina Pliskova
Aryna Sabalenka vs Simona Halep
Karolina Pliskova vs Simona Halep