Khalaf Al Habtoor, Noura Badawi, Laith Al Ani, Sabine Schulz and participating players pose for a picture after the draw ceremony.
Gulf Today, Sports Reporter
Top seed Viktoria Hruncakova and second seed and former Dubai champion Daria Snigur have been handed out tough opening round draws at the 26th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge that got under way with first round qualifying at the Habtoor Grand Resort, on Sunday.
Slovakia’s Hruncakova – formerly going by her maiden surname Kuzmova – will meet Dalila Jakupovic of Slovenia, while Snigur – the 2021 champion at this tournament – will be up against Anastasia Zakharova at the lower end of the draw.
Khalaf Al Habtoor, Founder and Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group was in attendance with Tournament Director Noura Badawi and ITF Supervisor Sabine Schulz at the draw ceremony held at the Habtoor Grand Hotel in Dubai Marina, on Sunday.
“The Al Habtoor family supports sport, not just in the UAE but across the world. We carry the flag of the UAE all over. This tournament is special to us simply because this is the first women’s tennis event anywhere in the Gulf region,” Al Habtoor said.
“We want to see these young players do well on the professional tour. We are more than happy to give these players a stepping stone for the future,” he added.
Tournament Director Noura Badawi thanked all the entire tournament staff led by Laith Al Ani, Director of Operations and Chief of Officials at AHTC, for making this event such a huge success since the past 25 years. “We are proud to stage a successful tournament here each year, and we are super proud that we have been able to provide playing opportunities to a long list of players, some of whom have gone on to even become world number ones,” Badawi noted.
Top seed Hruncakova will encounter one of the eight qualifiers in the second round, but will need to deal with some of the top players like Sabine Lisicki and Ekaterina Makarova as the competition progresses.
Snigur too will have to be at her sharpest as the 21-year-old has players like Timea Babos, Maria Timofeeva, Rebecca Sramkova, Vera Zvonareva and Kristina Mladenovic in her side of the draw.
Third-seeded Rebecca Sramkova will face Natalija Stevanovic in her opening round, and is likely to encounter the experienced Heather Watson of Great Britain in the quarter-finals.
First held in 1998, this tournament is classified as an ITF Women’s Circuit competition. The competition started off as an $25,000 ITF event, before being raised to a $75,000 tournament between 1999 to 2015.
Since 2016, the annual fixture has been upgraded to a $100,000 plus hospitality event on the ITF Women’s World Tennis Tour attracting some of the top champions alongside a fast-improving breed of promising young stars.
The brainchild of Habtoor, this annual tournament has managed to live up to its hype of encouraging the development of women’s tennis in the UAE and the region while raising the profile of the sport across the Arab world.
Included in the long list of past champions are former Grand Slam winners and top-class players such as Sorana Cirstea (2020), Ana Bogdan (2019), Peng Shuai (2018), Belinda Bencic (2017), Kimiko Date-Krumm (2012), Sania Mirza (2010), Maria Kirilenko (2007), Kateryna Bondarenko (2006), Marion Bartoli (2005), Jelena Jankovic (2003) and inaugural winner Kyra Nagy (1998).
The 18-year-old Bojica, whose entry on the big stage of women’s tennis came at the Dubai Duty Free Women’s Open earlier this year, eased past Slovakia’s Nina Danisova 6-2, 6-3 in 99 minutes to set a meeting against eighth seed Peangtarn Plipuech of Thailand.
Staring at defeat at 4-5 and 0-40 in the third set, former British No.1 Watson clawed back to push the set into a deciding tie-breaker that Hartono eventually went on to win and land into her first-ever career W100 final.
Former two-time singles Grand Slam finalist Vera Zvonareva will join multiple doubles champion Kristina Mladenovic and Germany’s Sabine Lisicki as the three wild cards when the 26th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge gets under way this week.
“This is such a lovely tournament for me as I won here two years ago, and that gave me that confidence and belief to go ahead in my career as a tennis player. I now find myself as someone who is capable of doing much better on the WTA Tour,” she said.
The event will be held under the patronage of the Dubai Sports Council in cooperation with the Emirates Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation.
This comes as the countdown begins for the event hosted by the UAE during the period from April 16 to May 2, with the participation of 3,500 male and female athletes under the slogan "Our Gulf is one .. Our youth is promising.”
Fourth edition of the Dubai International Master Competition for RC Aircraft will be held under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of The Executive Council of Dubai.
Top seed Daniil Medvedev rallied from a set down to defeat Lorenzo Sonego 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Wednesday, booking his place in the quarter-finals. Playing in the first tournament since losing the Australian Open final, the top seed took