Organisers of the 2018 WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships are confident the tournament will represent one of the strongest in its 18-year history, despite the late withdrawals by a number of marquee names.
The event’s top-ranked player, world No 2 Simona Halep, pulled out on Friday, citing a persistent foot injury that forced her to withdraw from the Qatar Total Open before Saturday’s semi-final. Runner-up at the Australian Open last month, Halep won in Dubai in 2015.
The Romanian was the third high-profile casualty of the past week, with five-time grand slam champion Maria Sharapova and 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys each withdrawing. Meanwhile, world No 10 Julia Goerges, beaten finallist at the Aviation Club in 2012, was also forced to pull out after retiring from her quarter-final in Doha.
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Sharapova and Keys out of 2018 WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
Even with the absentees, the Dubai event still features six of the 10 top-ranked players in the women’s game. The field is headlined by No 1 seed Elina Svitolina, who returns to defend the title she won last year, with reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza also competing. Those two players have received a bye into the second round, alongside French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and world No 5 Karolina Pliskova.
The draw took place at the Aviation Club on Saturday, with the pick of an ultra-competitive first round including fifth seed Caroline Garcia against the experienced Lucie Safarova, and British wildcard Johanna Konta taking on Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenko. Also, two-time Wimbledon champion and 2013 Dubai winner Petra Kvitova goes up against the in-form Anett Kontaveit. The main action is scheduled to begin on Monday.
Speaking at the draw, tournament director Salah Tahlak said he was convinced the event would prove another success this week, even without the likes of Halep, Sharapova and Keys.
“Withdrawals are part of the game," Tahlak said. "It’s not the end of the world - we still have great players here. It really is one of the best draws. It’s very well balanced, so that means we’ll definitely have a good quarter-final, semi-final and final. Both parts of the draw are strong so you’ll see some really good matches.
“Nowadays you are seeing women’s matches last longer, so the quality of the matches is really very competitive and very tight. And that is good for the players, good for us and good for the spectators and viewers to see.”
Looking to become only the third woman to retain the Dubai crown, Svitolina could face in the second round the improving Kiki Bertens. Muguruza will play either wildcard Catherine Bellis, who comes off an excellent week in Doha, or Elise Mertens. Last month, Mertens successfully defended her Hobart International title, before going on to reach the Australian Open semi-final.
“It’s a difficult half of the draw for sure, but here everyone can play great tennis,” Mertens said. “Of course, I want to go as far as I can. I don’t really want to put a round on it, because if my level is there I can win a lot of matches."