Dubai: The draws for the opening week of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships threw up a mix of interesting matches with much of the attention focused on the Williams sisters.
World number one and one of three wild cards in Dubai, Serena Williams seems headed for a likely semi-final meeting with defending champion Petra Kvitova while older sister Venus Williams will have to first get past doubles specialist Elena Vesnina from Russia.
With the top four seeds given an automatic first round bye, Serena will have an added two days before her second round meeting against one of two Russians, Alisa Kleybanova or Ekaterina Makarova.
The draw ceremony was held in the presence of four players — Venus Williams, Samantha Stosur, Sorana Cirstea and Lucie Safarova — along with Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman, Dubai Duty Free; Salah Tahlak, Tournament Director; Abdul Rahman Falaknaz, Vice Chairman, Tennis Emirates and Donna Kelso, WTA Tour Supervisor, among others.
In the draw, Serena was joined by defending champion Kvitova in the upper half while Agnieszka Radwanska and Sara Errani occupied the lower half of the draw and a possible meeting in the last four. There will be some engrossing fixtures along the way with Czech Republic’s Fed Cup winning star Lucie Safarova facing American sensation Sloane Stephens.
Jelena Jankovic, one of the handful of former world number ones in this competition, will take on a qualifier while Australian Samantha Stosur will also have to face one of the four qualifiers.
Ana Ivanovic, one of the faces of modern-era tennis and an ambassador of organisers and hosts Dubai Duty Free, will try and continue with her resurgent form this season as she takes on Angelique Kerber.
Romanian Sorana Cirstea will be up against world number one in women’s doubles, Roberta Vinci — the Italian holding the rather enviable record of not registering a single singles win so far this year.
“You don’t get any easy draws here as the field is so strong each year,” Safarova said.
“But it is important to start strong and then carry the momentum forward for the rest of the season,” she added.
Venus, one of the three wild cards, will be making her return to Dubai after a four-year absence. At the ongoing Qatar Open, the American lost in three long sets to Dubai defending champion Petra Kvitova and Venus is pleased with her form. “I’ve been playing well and I hope to continue in the same way,” Venus said.
“It’s been four years, but I really feel blessed to be back here,” she added.
Earlier, McLoughlin complimented the 700-odd staff of Dubai Duty Free involved in organising this tournament each year. A special study recently put the total value of the two-week tennis tournament at $381 million (Dh1,399 million). “This tournament is indicative of how we do things in Dubai Duty Free. This event has become synonymous with Dubai,” McLaughlin said.
The qualifying rounds will continue at the Dubai Tennis Stadium in Al Garhoud on Sunday while action for the main draw will get under way at 2pm on Monday.