Marion Bartoli will not be a fashionable pick to reach the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships next week, but the recent form of the French No 1 suggests she could make a deep run through the draw at the Aviation Club.
Bartoli reached the semi-final of the Qatar Open last night, having made it to the final of the Open GDF Suez tournament in Paris last weekend. Bartoli warmed up nicely for Dubai with a 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 win over the unseeded Lucie Safarova, who was responsible for taking out world No 2 Caroline Wozniacki and world No 14 Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second and third round respectively.
Bartoli, 27, is pleased with her current form, which sees her No 7 in the world, her highest placing, and she describes her 2011 season as "a phenomenal year".
"I am so pleased with what I have done throughout 2011," she said. "It was a very consistent year."
That consistency took her to five finals and two titles, along the way beating Wozniacki when the Dane was the world No 1; the Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and the US Open winner Sam Stosur. Those victories would indicate an ability to defeat some of the highest seeds in Dubai.
Bartoli also reached three semi-finals in 2011, and it was one of those that, along with a Wimbledon finals appearance in 2007, has been a highlight of her career.
It was at the French Open, where no French player has triumphed since Mary Pierce won in 2000. Although she lost to Francesca Schiavone, her appearance drew maximum attention in Paris.
Bartoli, the daughter of a physician, is known for her unorthodox and intense style of play, and is an aggressive and hard-hitting player, with an unusual serve which she developed to compensate for her relatively small (1.70m) stature. She served 270 aces last year, turning what might have been a detriment into an advantage.
"It works extremely well for me, I think," she said. "The take-back is a bit different but when the toss is up it's the same as everyone. I have been working extremely hard on my serve because I am not very tall and that was always my weaker shot. Now it is my weapon."
Bartoli, an Aviation Club regular, reached the semi-finals in Dubai last year, losing to the top-seeded Wozniacki.
"Marion Bartoli has missed only one year of our tournament since she successfully came through the qualifying rounds in 2005," said Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman of the tournament organisers Dubai Duty Free. "In that first year she also played an ITF event in Dubai and emerged from that as the champion.
"Since those early days she has continued to climb the rankings and it is with great pleasure that we welcome back the French No 1."
Bartoli's place in the Dubai tournament will be known today, when the draw for the 2012 WTA tourament is announced. Salah Tahlak, the tournament director, said she cannot be overlooked.
"Bartoli has proven she can match it with the best of them with wins over all the top players last season, so there is no reason she won't be the one to add this title to her name," Tahlak said.
Play begins in the women's tournament on Monday, and the draw could include six of the world's top 10 players, including the world No 1 Victoria Azarenka.
The men's event will start from February 27, with three of the world's top four - Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray - in the fray.