High-octane women's tennis in the Middle East is in full swing with the Qatar Total Open 2020 following the just-concluded Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships this week. Simona Halep dug deep to fight off a spirited Elena Rybakina in a thrilling Dubai final on Saturday, which prompted the former Doha champion to pull out of the Qatar Open this week.
With it being a WTA Premier 5 tournament this year, a bevy of stars has descended on the Qatari capital to take home the prized falcon trophy in the 18th edition of this prestigious event.
World No.1 Ashleigh Barty returns to action for the first time since losing a gruelling semi-final to eventual champion Sofia Kenin at the Australian Open. Barty has made a pretty good start to the year, having won the title in Adelaide and following it up with a run to the last-four stage in the year's first Major. She would, of course, hope to continue it but she has been presented with a pretty steep challenge in Doha.
A rematch with Kenin beckons, should the sixth seed herself get past 11th seed Garbine Muguruza in a possible repeat of the Australian Open summit clash. Following up a Slam title is never easy and Kenin lost her opener last week in Dubai to the fast-rising Rybakina. The American would be upbeat to make amends for it here and Muguruza, too, would hope to avenge her Melbourne loss, which sets up a tantalizing showdown between the two.
The winner of that match gets to meet Barty in the quarter-finals, which throws up the prospect of yet another enthralling contest between power and finesse.
The second quarter of the draw is packed with big names such as third seed and former champion Karolina Pliskova, eighth seed and 2018 winner Petra Kvitova as well as former French Open titlist Jelena Ostapenko. With big-hitters Pliskova and Kvitova both being placed in the same section of the draw, a much-awaited all-Czech quarter-final is on the horizon.
Between the two, Pliskova started the new season in a much better fashion, winning the title in Brisbane while Kvitova has failed to reach the final in three tournaments this year. It would thus be a stern test of the two-time Wimbledon champion's hunger and will-power if the two square off.
The third quarter has the fourth seed Belinda Bencic and the fifth seed Elina Svitolina, who mirror each other's struggles in the 2020 season. Both haven't made it past the quarter-finals in any tournament so far this year and would hope to turn around their fortunes in this tournament. Both of them, however, have to be wary of another challenger in their quarter - defending champion Elise Mertens, seeded 16th this time.
Seventh seed Kiki Bertens leads the bottom quarter of the draw in the absence of the second seed and 2019 runner-up Halep. Bertens will be playing her first tournament since successfully defending her St. Petersburg title a week ago. Bertens will have to contend with the likes of ninth seed Aryna Sabalenka in the same quarter but having defeated the Belarusian at the Fed Cup Qualifiers at the beginning of this month, the confident Dutchwoman looks the biggest bet to make it through to the semi-finals.
Here's all you need to know about Qatar Open 2020 Schedule:
Tournament: Qatar Total Open 2020
Category: WTA Premier 5
City: Doha, Qatar
Venue: Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex
Prize money: $3,240,445
Tournament schedule: February 23-29, 2020
Live Telecast: There will be no live telecast in India
Live Scores: Click here