WTA Qatar Total Open (Doha) 2013 Draw Preview and Analysis

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For full draw, please click here: WTA Qatar Open (Doha) Draw 2013

This week’s tournament in Doha sees the top competitors in the women’s game play together for the first time since the Australian Open. One of the WTA’s Premier 5 events, the Qatar Total Open awards 900 ranking points to the champion, as well as a sizeable slice of the $2.3 million prize money.

Along with a chance to see nine of the world’s top ten in action (Li Na pulled out with an ankle injury), there is added intrigue at the 2013 edition of the Qatar Total Open, as the world number one ranking could change hands. Top seed Victoria Azarenka tore through the field to win the event last season, but Serena Williams is in the draw this time around, and the American is only 355 points behind Azarenka in the WTA standings. Not to be outdone, Maria Sharapova also has the top spot within her grasp, and, like Serena, doesn’t have any points to defend from last year. Should either Sharapova or Williams win the title, and Azarenka fail to post a strong result, there will be a new queen bee in women’s tennis next Monday.

Helping Azarenka’s cause is a relatively straightforward draw, for the first few rounds at least. As a top eight seed, she’ll receive a bye into the second round, where she will face either Tsvetana Pironkova or Romina Operandi. In the last 16, she is seeded to face Dominika Cibulkova, who beat her in the fourth round of Roland Garros last year. But the diminutive Slovak had her confidence against the top players shattered when she was double-bagelled by Agnieszka Radwanska in the Sydney final last month. Moreover, she had to pull out her country’s Fed Cup tie with injury. Bojana Jovanovski, who did well in Melbourne, could come through instead, but the shrieking Serb hasn’t yet shown that she is ready to take on the elite and win.

Sara Errani heads the lower half of the first quarter, and will be thankful for her first round bye, having played almost non-stop since the beginning of January. Her path to the third round looks secure, but she could run into a number of big hitters once she gets there. Maria Kirilenko, who won  the Pattaya title last week, could cause a lot of trouble for the Italian, but so could Britain’s Laura Robson, who faces Daniela Hantuchova in her opening match and has a prime opportunity to make an impact on another big stage.

Predicted quarter-final: Azarenka v Kirilenko

Like Errani, Agnieszka Radwanska has been busy in 2013. She won in Auckland and Sydney, reached the last eight at the Australian Open and played Fed Cup last weekend. In the second round she will face either a qualifier or Zie Zheng, and it would be a huge shock if the über-consistent Pole were to fall to either. In the third round, she could face a rematch with the woman she beat in the last 16 in Melbourne: Ana Ivanovic. Or at least that’s what the tournament seedings would indicate; with Ivanovic, nothing is certain. Just when it seemed as though the Serb was carving out a reasonably solid position for herself in the 10 – 15 ranking range, she lost her opening match in Pattaya City as the top seed. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Ivanovic fall to grass court specialist Tamira Paszek at the first hurdle, or to Romania’s Simona Halep in the second round.

We haven’t heard much from Angelique Kerber since she lost to Ekaterina Makarova in the fourth round in Melbourne, as a back injury forced her out the Fed Cup. The German is the fifth seed in Doha, but could face a tricky second round clash with compatriot Mona Barthel, who reminded fans of why she was once so hotly tipped when she beat Errani to win the title in Paris a couple of weeks ago. If Kerber is still nursing her bad back and playing with rust, Barthel has an excellent opportunity to maintain her momentum in Doha. Caroline Wozniacki needs a good tournament, and faces a qualifier in round one followed by, most likely, Sorana Cristea in round two. The Dane lost early in Qatar last year, and will be keen to earn some valuable ranking points this week. A third-round encounter with either Kerber or Barthel will reveal much about the state of her game, and her confidence, post-Melbourne.

Predicted quarter-final: Radwanska v Wozniacki

Moving on to the bottom half of the draw, we find Sam Stosur as the eighth seed in a particularly tough section. The troubled Aussie is still ranked highly, and can still knock other players into submission when her game is on, but where is her head at this point in the season? She didn’t win a match in the first two weeks of the year, and admitted to choking during her second round loss at the Australian Open. Stosur needs a few solid victories to stay relevant, but a second round clash against either Monica Niculescu or Jelena Jankovic doesn’t bode well. Even if she finds a way through those dangerous floaters, she could face either Svetlana Kuznetsova or Marion Bartoli in the last 16. Kuznetsova showed why she was once ranked second in the world with an impressive run to the last eight in Melbourne, and it will be interesting to see if she can keep that form going.

Elsewhere, Maria Sharapova will be keen to put her disappointing Australian Open loss to Li Na behind her with a strong showing in Doha this week. The Russian hasn’t played in the Middle East for a few years, but won in the Qatari capital in 2008, and the fast hard courts will suit her power game. Her first couple of matches should be relatively straightforward, but she is likely to face a stern test in the third round. Varvara Lepchenko and Klara Zakopalova are in the third seed’s section, but all eyes will be on 16th seed and darling of Melbourne, Sloane Stephens. Can the young American follow up her stunning upset of Serena Williams with another high-profile win? Or will Sharapova, who loves to assert her aura and authority, put the upstart back in her place?

Predicted quarter-final: Sharapova v Kuznetsova

Speaking of Serena, organisers and fans have been holding their breath to see if the American will make the trip to Doha. The Wimbledon champion has a habit of pulling out of “lesser” tournaments at the last minute, and she seemed to have a legitimate excuse to skip Doha given the serious ankle injury she suffered in Australia. But the second seed is in the draw, and any event starring Serena immediately becomes more exciting. The US Open champion’s route to the top ranking is an interesting one. She will likely face Anabel Medina Garrigues in the second round, who could cause Serena a few headaches, especially if she’s not at her best. In the last 16, Williams could clash with either 15th seed Roberta Vinci or the always-dangerous Yanina Wickmayer.

Had this draw been made one year ago, the thought of a Serena-Petra Kvitova quarter-final would have left fans salivating. But the Czech has fallen far and fast in the last few months, looking well short of the confidence and form that saw her lift the Wimbledon trophy in 2011. Kvitova has a miserable 3-4 win-loss record in 2013, and although, at her best, she could beat every player in the Doha draw, we haven’t seen her best for a long time. A second round meeting with Ekaterina Makarova could be bruising, and even if she gets through that, a third round contest with Nadia Petrova or compatriot Lucie Safarova could end Kvitova’s campaign entirely. One has to assume that the seventh seed will start winning big again at some point – she is far too talented a player not to – but given recent form, that uptick in fortunes seems unlikely to occur in Doha.

Predicted quarter-final: Serena v Safarova

This week’s Qatar Total Open has the makings of one of the most competitive and eventful WTA events of the year. The presence of the “Big Three” of Serena, Azarenka and Sharapova elevates the tournament to near Grand Slam-level significance, and the fact that any of these women could end the week as world number one adds extra spice to proceedings. That said, it is difficult to see Serena losing. Her shock defeat at the hands of Sloane Stephens aside, the American has lost only once since last year’s French Open. If she is fit and healthy, it will take a stunning performance to beat her.

Predicted semi-finals: Azarenka def. Radwanska; Serena def. Sharapova

Champion: Serena Williams

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