Elina Svitolina set for hat-trick bid after accepting Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships wildcard

Ukrainian world No 4 is seeking a third Dubai title in four years

Tennis - Australian Open - Third Round - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - January 25, 2020. Ukraine's Elina Svitolina in action during her match against Spain's Garbine Muguruza. REUTERS/Edgar Su
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Elina Svitolina will bid to become a three-time winner of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships later this month after accepting a wildcard into the WTA Premier tournament.

Svitolina, the world No 4, won her first Dubai title in 2017 when she defeated recently-retired Dane Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-4 in the final. The Ukrainian successfully defended the trophy 12 months later with a 6-4, 6-0 victory over Russia's Daria Kasatkina. Svitolina was denied the hat-trick last year when she fell at the semi-finals to eventual champion Belinda Bencic.

She will once again be one of the leading contenders when the 2020 tournament – the 20th edition of the WTA event – gets underway on February 17.

“We have enjoyed many fine performances from Elina Svitolina and are delighted to welcome her to Dubai once again,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “Although she was unable to claim her third title here last year she will once again be a favourite to lift the trophy.”

Svitolina returns to Dubai after a mixed 12 months that saw her sidelined with a knee injury between the Miami Open in March and the Madrid Open in May.

After a three successive first round defeats, she started to rediscover her form, culminating with a run to the Wimbledon semi-finals in July.

Svitolina, 25, repeated the trick at the US Open in September when she made it to the final four, before reaching the final of the season-ending WTA Tour Finals in Shenzhen where she was defending champion.

This season has begun slowly for the 13-time WTA Tour title winner with a first-round defeat at the Brisbane International and a third round exit at the Australian Open, but a return to her happy hunting ground of Dubai could provide a spark.

“Elina Svitolina will certainly be a leading contender for the title, even though she faces a field that includes so many other members of the top 10 who are just as eager as her to claim the trophy," tournament director Salah Tahlak said.

"She has often shown though that she is one of the toughest competitors on the WTA Tour and we very much look forward to seeing her again.”

If Svitolina is to land her third Dubai title, she will have to overcome an immensely strong field, which includes seven of the world's top 10 players.

World No 2 and 2015 champion Simona Halep leads the lineup and is joined by world No 3 Karolina Pliskova, world No 5 and title holder Bencic, US Open champion and world No 6 Bianca Andreescu, and the recently-crowned Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin, whose exploits in Melbourne have moved her up to world No 7.

However, one notable absentee will be the world No 1 after Ashleigh Barty announced that she has been forced to withdraw due to injury. Barty has had a busy start to the season, winning the Adelaide International title before reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open.

“Unfortunately, I am withdrawing from the Dubai Duty Free Championships due to a right foot injury,” Barty said. “Best wishes to the players and tournament on a great week and I look forward to playing in Dubai soon.”

After the conclusion of the WTA tournament – with the final set for February 22 – the ATP event will begin the next week on February 24.

Headlining the men's tournament will be two of the biggest names in tennis: Novak Djokovic, who successfully retained his Australian Open title last month and returned to world No 1, and Roger Federer – the world No 3 and defending Dubai champion. In winning his record-extending eighth Dubai title last year, Federer achieved the milestone of 100 ATP Tour singles titles.

Aiming to challenge Djokovic and Federer include young Greek star - and last year's finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas, world No 9 Gael Monfils, world No 11 Fabio Fognini, and 2018 winner Roberto Bautista Agut.