Fantastic line-up set to dazzle at DDF Tennis Championships - GulfToday

Fantastic line-up set to dazzle at DDF Tennis Championships

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Belinda Bencic is set to return to defend her Dubai Open title.

A fantastic galaxy of top talent is once again set to light up the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships when play gets underway next month, with the current top three women in the world  preparing to battle for the coveted trophy as the tournament celebrates the 20th anniversary of the WTA event.

Ashleigh Barty, Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep will be joined by three more members of the world’s top 10, with US Open winner Bianca Andreescu, defending Dubai champion  Belinda Bencic and Kiki Bertens all ready to make their bid to lift the winner’s trophy. An incredible 14 of the world’s top 20 will be gathered to make it one of the most hotly contested fields outside of a Grand Slam.

The anniversary week will be followed by a star-studded ATP event which features arguably the strongest line-up of players in its 28-year history. Both defending champion Roger  Federer and 2019 runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas are set to return, along with 2018 champion Roberto Bautista Agut.

The two-week festival of tennis will get underway with the WTA stars between Feb.17-22, with the men taking to the courts from Feb.24-29.

 “2019 was only the second time in the history of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships that two players from the same country emerged as our singles champions, and we are  delighted to welcome Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic again,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “We look forward to seeing if they can set a new milestone by successfully defending those titles, but they face competition  from one of the strongest fields ever assembled in Dubai”.

Ashleigh Barty enjoyed a sensational 2019 which not only sent her soaring to world number one but saw her claim her first Grand Slam crown at Roland Garros and then close out  the year by lifting the much sought-after WTA Finals trophy. She also won titles in Miami and Birmingham and no one was surprised when she was named the winner of ‘The Don’ Award, recognising her as Australia’s outstanding sportsperson of the year.

She will naturally be a favourite to add the beautiful Dubai trophy to her expanding portfolio, but former finalist Karolina Pliskova is just one of those who will stand in her  path.

The 2015 runner-up was involved in one of the most dramatic battles of the tournament last year when she was toppled in the quarter-finals after leading Su-Wei Hsieh 5-1 in the final set. Despite that disappointment, she claimed titles in Brisbane, Rome,  Eastbourne and Zhengzhou before she closed out her excellent season by reaching the semi-finals of the WTA Finals in Shenzhen.

Former world number one and two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep will bid to reclaim the Dubai crown she won in 2015. Chosen as the ‘2019 WTA Fan Favourite’ for a third  straight year, she is one of the feistiest players on the WTA Tour and always great to watch. Last season saw her follow up her 2018 Roland Garros triumph by adding a second Grand Slam title at Wimbledon with victory over Serena Williams, becoming the first  Romanian to win a Wimbledon singles title. Upon her arrival back home, she was greeted by 30,000 people at the National Stadium in Bucharest.

One of the biggest sensations of 2019 was Bianca Andreescu, who seemingly came from nowhere to claim a Grand Slam. At the end of 2018, she was ranked 152 with no titles to her name, but she ended 2019 ranked fifth with the US Open and further titles at Indian Wells and on  home ground in Toronto, as well as a runner-up finish in Auckland.

Belinda Bencic, who in 2019 overcame no less than four top 10 opponents on her way to the title, is relishing the opportunity to defend her crown. Having added a further six  victories over top 10 opponents during last season and a title in Moscow to her Dubai triumph, she reached the semi-finals of both the US Open and the WTA Finals for the first time, and is certain to once again provide strong opposition for whoever she meets.

Others who will offer a fierce challenge include Kiki Bertens, who is overdue to match her success elsewhere by making her mark in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium after three  successive opening round defeats.

Any challengers for the ATP title will have a mountain to climb as Roger Federer, who defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4 6-4 in the 2019 final to earn the 100th singles title of  his career, as well as his eighth title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, is as strong as ever at the age of 38. He went on to claim three more titles and finish the season ranked number three in the world. He is looking forward to once again competing  in a city where he lifted his first Dubai trophy way back in 2003.

Stefanos Tsitsipas returns for another try for the title he came so close to claiming last year.

Roberto Bautista-Agut will once more be a strong challenger after coming off the best year of his career, as he ended a season ranked inside the top 10 for the first time, reached  his first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon and closed out his season by helping Spain to victory in the Davis Cup final. Incredibly, he won two of his three matches in the finals despite his father dying during the tournament.