World No 2 Simona Halep has been confirmed for the 2018 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, organisers announced on Wednesday.
Halep, 26, has enjoyed a fine start to the season, winning her opening tournament in Shenzhen before reaching the final of the Australian Open last month. Her efforts were recognised by fans, who named Halep January's WTA Player of the Month.
Halep returns to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships as a former champion, having won the title in 2015 with a straight sets win over Karolina Pliskova.
"Simona Halep fully deserved her player of the month award after a fantastic period in which she enjoyed great success and showed to one and all that she is able to overcome even the toughest challenges," said Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman and chief executive of Dubai Duty Free.
"She will arrive in Dubai full of confidence, knowing that it will take an extraordinary effort to deny her a second title here. We eagerly look forward to seeing how she fares against one of the strongest group of players ever assembled in Dubai."
Halep's presence means seven of the world's top 10 players will be in Dubai. Ukraine's world No 3 Elina Svitolina, Garbine Muguruza, the Spanish world No 4 and reigning Wimbledon champion, and Czech world No 5 Karolina Pliskova will all be competing in the emirate.
Also taking their places in the Premier-level event are France's world No 7 Carolina Garcia, Germany's former world No 1 Angelique Kerber, now ranked No 9, and her compatriot Julia Goerges, who rose to No 10 last week.
The competitiveness doesn't end there, with No 13-ranked Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic, 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys, the world No 14 from the United States, and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova all in the draw. Additionally, former world No 1 Maria Sharapova was last week handed a wild card for the event.
"We are delighted to welcome Simona Halep back to Dubai," tournament director Salah Tahlak said. "There are few players who can match her tenacity and skill, but she is sure to be stretched to the limit by a player field that features not only seven of the top 10, but a total of five players who have been ranked world No 1 and four who have won grand slam titles. It will be very exciting to see how she deals with the challenge."
The 2018 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships will begin with the WTA event on February 19 with the final scheduled for February 24. The ATP tournament will then follow on February 27 with the final on March 3.