The tour continues in the Middle East Swing as the first Premier 5 tournament of the year awaits for us at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. As the Qatar Total Open suffered countless rain delays throughout the tournament, which caused their tournament director to admit that they considered finishing the tournament without a final being played if the rain continued to prevent the play from continuing, all tennis fans would be hoping the same would not happen to Dubai.
Who is playing?
Once again, it would be the 2016 Australian and US Open champion Angelique Kerber, the world number two, headlining the field as she would be the top seed here in Dubai. She is looking to get her season undergoing here after starting 2017 with a 4-4 win-loss record, with two losses against Daria Kasatkina in both Sydney (Read the recap here) and Doha (Read the recap here). Entering this tournament, Kerber knows that a trophy here would allow her to regain the world number one ranking.
Former and reigning WTA Finals champions Agnieszka Radwanska and Dominika Cibulkova are also part of the strong line-up, with both players looking to get a good result here after suffering a couple of disappointing results in Australia.
Both Doha finalists Caroline Wozniacki and Karolina Pliskova made a fast journey from Qatar to Dubai as they are both participating in this event, with Pliskova seeded 2nd and receiving a bye thus having more rest than Wozniacki, who would most probably play on the first two days of the tournament.
There would also be a couple of former Grand Slam champions present in Dubai as 2016 Roland Garros champion Garbine Muguruza and 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur would be vying for the title especially after having some disappointing results recently.
The lone British in the top 10, Johanna Konta, would also be vying for the title after being handed a favourable draw with relatively easy opponents. Fellow Australian Open quarterfinalists Coco Vandeweghe (who went on to reach the semifinals) and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova would also be looking to make a push up in the rankings with the momentum running in them.
Nevertheless, the draw would definitely be bound to suffer from the withdrawals of several players as this is the nature of sports. Some notable withdrawals would be Svetlana Kuznetsova, who continues to suffer from an abdominal injury which also caused her to withdraw from the Qatar Total Open. Also, former champion Simona Halep was also forced to miss this tournament due to a left knee problem that has been lingering since the WTA Finals last year and was replaced by a former world number one, Jelena Jankovic, in the main draw.
Carla Suarez Navarro continues to recover from her shoulder injury as she withdrew from her third successive tournament (Taipei, Doha, Dubai) which would cause her to fall outside of the world’s top 20 for the first time since 2013. Former top 10 players Eugenie Bouchard, Sara Errani and Timea Bacsinszky are also notable absentees from this tournament.
After the draw was made, news that Johanna Konta withdrew from the tournament due to a left foot injury broke out. Konta released the following statement after her official withdrawal, “I’m really sorry to have to withdraw from Dubai. I came here with every intention of playing and I’m really sad I didn’t get to make my debut here, but health has to come first and it’s a long season. I’m really looking to coming back next year and for many years to come. It’s a wonderful venue and I’ve enjoyed my short amount of time here in Dubai.”
Nevertheless, the top quarter would be the home for the top seed, Angelique Kerber. She faces a very tough opponent in her opening match, though, similar to her draw in Qatar. This time, she would either face her compatriot Mona Barthel or a fellow former world number one, Jelena Jankovic. Barthel has a 2-2 head-to-head record with the world number two, while Jankovic has a 2-4 deficit in their previous meetings, winning their last meeting in Hong Kong.
Her slated third-round opponent would be Caroline Garcia, but it would be hard to predict as of now as either Monica Puig or Yaroslava Shvedova would be awaiting in the second round for the Frenchwoman.
Samantha Stosur, the 12th seed in the tournament, would have a relatively easier opener against Zhang Kai-lin, a qualifier, before having a very tough match-up against either the big-hitting Ana Konjuh or good friend Zhang Shuai. The winner of this match would potentially face the eighth seed Elena Vesnina in the third round, but nevertheless, it would be hard to deduce since the Russian herself faces a tough opponent in either Madison Brengle or Misaki Doi in her opening match.
Quarterfinal Prediction:  Elena Vesnina d. Jelena Jankovic
The top seed in this quarter would be Dominika Cibulkova, who is fresh off a semifinal finish at the Qatar Total Open. Her potential second round opponent would be Ekaterina Makarova, who would have to get past Zhu Lin in the first round. It would be a rematch of their Australian Open third round epic if Makarova gets past the first hurdle, and Cibulkova would definitely not want the same result to occur again. The draw does not get easier from then on, though, as 16th seed Roberta Vinci might be waiting for her there. Having to get past Kristyna Pliskova first, the path is certainly not easy at all.
13th seed Kiki Bertens faces a former top 30 player in Christina McHale in her opener, and their head-to-head record stands at 2-2 now. The main obstacle separating Bertens from the third round would be the hard-hitting Naomi Osaka, who would first have to battle past Chang Kai-chen in the first round. Elina Svitolina, the seventh seed in the tournament, would be the favourite to progress to the quarterfinals as she is handed a favourable draw. She would start her Dubai campaign against either Zheng Saisai or Lara Arruabarrena, which is not the worst draw she could have gotten.
Quarterfinal Prediction:  Elina Svitolina d.  Roberta Vinci
Headlining this quarter would be Garbine Muguruza and Agnieszka Radwanska, with both players on course for a quarterfinal collision. The Spaniard has a relatively easy opening match as she would either face Kateryna Bondarenko or youngster Aryna Sabalenka in the second round, before a potential match against Caroline Wozniacki. However, the player who reached the final in Doha has to battle past Daria Kasatkina first in a blockbuster first-round match before having any chances to set up another blockbuster meeting with Muguruza.
The highest ranked player in this section, Agnieszka Radwanska, faces a tough opener as either Elise Mertens or Tsvetana Pironkova awaits for her in the second round. Mertens owns a 14-2 win-loss record this season, winning the title in Hobart, and Pironkova has just defeated the Pole in last year’s Roland Garros. The youngest main draw direct acceptant, Catherine Bellis, would have a tough opener against Yulia Putintseva in her first main draw appearance in this first full year on tour of hers.
Quarterfinal Prediction:  Agnieszka Radwanska d. Daria Kasatkina
Barbora Strycova would be the top seed in the top half of the last quarter, but it does not matter as she would still receive a very tough draw. She opens against either Peng Shuai, the resurgent player who is returning from a career-threatening injury, or Lesia Tsurenko, who pushed former world number one Angelique Kerber to a third set at the Australian Open. Strycova would be looking to break the duck as she has not defeated both of them in her career. There would be an all-American clash in the first round as Alison Riske faces her Fed Cup teammate Coco Vandeweghe for a place in the second round.
The bottom half of the last quarter would see an interesting first round match between Katerina Siniakova, who defeated Alison Riske in the Shenzhen Open for her first career WTA title, and Kristina Mladenovic, who also won her first WTA singles title this year in St. Petersburg. The winner of this blockbuster would face Karolina Pliskova in the second round and would be yet another must-see match. Karolina Pliskova has just won the title at the Qatar Total Open a couple of days ago and would look to carry the momentum into Dubai.