Doha (AFP) – Little more than a fortnight since they met in a scintillating Australian Open final, Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep are on course to meet again, this time in the Qatar Open.
The two best ranked players in the world lead a high-quality field in Doha, where nine of the top 10 women players will compete.
As well as the Dane and the Romanian, the draw contains world number three Elina Svitolina from Ukraine and Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, ranked four.
Last year’s champion in Doha Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic — who beat Wozniacki in straight sets in the final — will defend her title.
Former Australian Open champion and ex-top ranked player in the world Germany’s Angelique Kerber, is also in Qatar and could meet Wozniacki in the quarter-finals.
Only world number eight Venus Williams is missing in Doha from the top 10.
But there are also players just outside those rankings who will make the field extra competitive, including Britain’s Johanna Konta, world number 11, France’s Kristina Mladenovic, ranked 13th and Belgium’s Elise Mertens who made it to the semi-finals in Melbourne.
On the back of that run, Mertens is up to 20th in the world.
And unseeded is controversial Russian Maria Sharapova.
The five-time Grand Slam winner has been granted a wildcard and could meet Wozniacki in the last 16.
The world number one shrugged off a potentially hard week ahead, claiming not to have looked at the draw beyond the first round, where she plays either Tatjana Maria or Carrina Witthoeft, both Germans.
“I’m excited for the challenge, and at the end of the day I think I’m just going to go out there, have fun and see what happens,” Wozniacki told reporters on Sunday.
Wozniacki is likely to play her first match on Wednesday.
The courts are expected to play much faster than last year’s rain-affected tournament where the weather was so bad, organisers were just one day away from cancelling the desert event without reaching the final because it was so wet.
No rain is forecast and winter temperatures are expected to reach 29 degrees celsius (84 degrees fahrenheit) during the week.
That will provide a contrast for Svitolina who said she had spent time between the Australian Open and Qatar in London and Paris.
In France she tried to train outside but was thwarted by snow.
Kerber, after a disappointing 2017 which saw her fail to get past the fourth round in any major, said she is back to the form of 2016, which saw her claim two Grand Slams.
“I’m able to play my game again, that I can fight,” she told reporters on Sunday.
“And yeah, having my tennis back, my motivation and everything what I had like two years ago.”
The tournament has been extended this year, with the final falling on Sunday rather than the traditional Saturday.