Tennis fans will have a fantastic opportunity to see the future of women’s tennis when many rising stars of the game compete in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships this month. While attention will naturally be focused on the incredible field of household names that includes eight of the top 10 headed by world number one and newly crowned Australian Open champion Serena Williams, they could face a formidable challenge from a host of players who are eager to claim their own place in the spotlight.
“With an expanded draw this year with double the number of players, fans have a greater opportunity to see the enormous depth that exists in women’s tennis,” said tournament director Salah Tahlak. “Exciting new players are showing that they too can compete for the biggest prizes, and defeat even the biggest names in the game.”
Garbine Muguruza certainly made people sit up and take notice when she caused the biggest sensation of the 2014 French Open by upsetting Serena Williams in the second round. She then went on to advance to her first Grand Slam quarter-final and took the first set from eventual champion Maria Sharapova before her remarkable run came to an end.
That success helped boost her ranking from 64 at the beginning of 2014 to number 20 in November, and she has continued to threaten the very best this season as she reached the Sydney quarter-finals by defeating 2012 Dubai champion Agnieszka Radwanska and then once again putting Serena Williams under pressure by taking the opening set of their fourth round clash at the Australian Open.
Karolina Pliskova is another who has been making great strides up the rankings, with her performances even attracting the attention of Australian Open finalist Andy Murray as she advanced all the way to last month’s Sydney final. “She had a big serve,” Murray observed, “and then when the ball was in the middle of the court, she was really taking the ball on. You could see that she is obviously a very dangerous player for any of the women to play against.”
When she competed in Dubai last year Pliskova was ranked outside of the top 50 but came through the qualifying event before losing in the first round. Since then she has gone on to win her first career titles in Seoul and Linz as well as reach finals in Hong Kong and in Nurnberg, where she defeated world number nine Angelique Kerber. She continued her march towards the top as this season got underway, beating Kerber again to reach the final in Sydney and then stretching Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova to two tiebreaks.
Elina Svitolina, like Muguruza, proved she has what it takes to reach the serious end of a tournament by recently advancing to the Brisbane semi-finals and then, like Muguruza, taking Serena to three sets at the Australian Open. Last year she successfully defended her title in Baku, beat double Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova, Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and runner-up Eugenie Bouchard, and top 10 opponent Angelique Kerber.
Belinda Bencic will not celebrate her 18th birthday until next month, but she is already showing signs of following compatriots Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Martina Hingis to the top of the rankings. After learning the game at the tennis school run by Martina’s mother Melanie, with whom she trained for eight years, Bencic enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2014 and finished the year ranked on the edge of the top 30.
After qualifying and beating world number 11 Sara Errani to reach the semi-finals in Charleston, she made it all the way to the quarter-finals of the US Open with victory over former world number one Jelena Jankovic before finishing the season by reaching the first final of her career in Tianjin.
Zarina Diyas is another player on the rise. Just a year ago she was spending most of her time competing on the ITF circuit, but she made a massive leap up the rankings in 2014, beginning the season at 163 and finishing just outside the top 30. Although she has so far not been able to seriously trouble the biggest names in the game it is only a matter of time before she does so.
In 2014 she reached her first WTA Tour final, eventually falling to former US Open winner Samantha Stosur in Osaka, and she reached the fourth round at Wimbledon with victories over world number 15 Carla Suarez Navarro and former finalist Vera Zvonareva. She also reached the third round at the US Open before losing to Ekaterina Makarova, as well as the third round of the 2014 and 2015 Australian Opens.
“It is always exciting to see new players come to the fore, and several of the most promising of those will be competing at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman of Dubai Duty Free, the tournament owners and organizers. “With several surprise upsets against them already, none of the established stars will be taking victory for granted as they compete with the rising stars for one of the most sought-after trophies on the WTA Tour.”
Play in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships begins with the WTA event, which takes place between 15th and 21st February and features 19-times Grand Slam winner Serena Williams, defending Dubai champion Venus Williams, former winners Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki and Agnieszka Radwanska, and French Open and WTA Finals runner-up Simona Halep.
Play then continues between 23rd and 28th February with the star-studded ATP tournament that includes world number one and Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic, defending Dubai champion Roger Federer, Australian Open finalist Andy Murray and Australian Open semi-finalist and two-time Dubai runner-up Tomas Berdych.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free, and held under the patronage of H. H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Tickets for the event are available from the Box Office at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Garhoud which opens from 9am to 9pm daily. Grandstand tickets can also be bought online at http://www.timeouttickets.com/. For further information about tickets, prices and the tournament visit www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com.