As a grim reminder that the pandemic is still prevalent, former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martínez has tested positive for coronavirus and is in quarantine at a hospital in Doha as the Qatar Total Open is about to get underway on Monday, with her protégée Garbiñe Muguruza in the draw.
I am hopeful that I will soon be able to continue this tour of the Middle East.A the moment I will be developing my functions via videoconference and permanently connected to direct Garbiñe. Thanks to the new technologies for making this situation more bearable and to you for your support! Conchita Martinez
The coach of the former World No 1 Muguruza, 48-year-old Martínez posted on social media that she was transferred from the official hotel on Saturday and was experiencing mild symptoms of COVID-19.
“I am hopeful that I will soon be able to continue this tour of the Middle East,” Martínez wrote. “A the moment I will be developing my functions via videoconference and permanently connected to direct Garbiñe.
“Thanks to the new technologies for making this situation more bearable and to you for your support!”
Martínez won Wimbledon in 1994, helped Spain win 5 Fed Cups (now the Billie Jean Cup) during the 1990s, and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame last year.
Muguruza is unseeded in the 32-player draw in Doha, where the top seed is Elina Svitolina, with defending champion Aryna Sabalenka, this year’s Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady, last year’s finalist Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova also in the WTA 500 field.
Svitolina, who received a bye in the opening round, could face Amanda Anisimova, the youngest player in the draw, in the round 2.
The Ukrainian lost to the talented 19-year old American at this stage last year, but Anisimova, along with compatriot Madison Keys, were both forced to delay their season starts after testing positive for the coronavirus ahead of the Australian swing.
Svitolina is projected to play a quarter-final match against either Victoria Azarenka or Svetlana Kuznetsova and a semi-final against Aryna Sabalenka.
Sabalenka, the No 3 seed, could face a blockbuster Round of 16 clash against Muguruza, the AO20 finalist who lost lost a tight 3-setter against Naomi Osaka in Melbourne this year after holding 2 match points, but the Spaniard first must navigate past a tough opening match against Veronika Kudemertova from Russia.
Muguruza is a 2-time Grand Slam champion who displayed a welcome return to form in Australia, reaching the final of the Yarra Valley Classic and the only player to get a set off Osaka, while Sabalenka has won 3 titles, in Doha, Ostrava and Linz, and picked up where she left off last year by winning the first tournament of the 2021 season in Abu Dhabi.
Sabalenka has been drawn in the same section as Greece’s Maria Sakkari, Keys and Swiss Belinda Bencic, who finished runner-up to Iga Swiatek in this week’s final in Adelaide and has a quick turn-around.
Last year’s final, which turned out to be the last WTA 1000 tournament before the shutdown, saw the Belarusian defeat Petra Kvitova, 6-3 6-3, and now ranked No 8, Sabalenka is hoping to follow in the footsteps of her compatriot Victoria Azarenka to become just the second woman to successfully defend the title in Doha, something Azarenka accomplished in 2012 and 2013.
No 4 seed Kvitova faces a second round match against Russia’s Anastasya Pavlyuchenkova, who opens her campaign against a qualifier.
The Czech is looking to bounce back from the disappointment in Melbourne, where she lost to Sorana Cristea in the second round.
Jennifer Brady, who finished runner-up to Osaka in the AO final last week, takes on Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit in the first round, with the winner projected to play 3-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber, providing the German gets past an unknown wild card Cagla Buyukakcay from Turkey.
Buyukakcay is 1 of 4 wild cards in the draw, including 2-time champion Azarenka, 2016 finalist Jelena Ostapenko, and Egypt’s Mayar Sherif.
Azarenka returns for the first time since 2015 and has made the final or won the Doha title in 3 of her 4 main-draw appearances.
Seeded No 8 this year, the Belarusian faces 2-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round.
The Russian has played the most matches of anyone in Doha over her career, posting a 19-11 record.
Both women are coming off early AO21 exits, with Azarenka bowing out in the first round to eventual quarter-finalist Jessica Pegula, who is the top seed in qualifying, while Kuznetsova lost a tough 3-setter to Bencic in the round 2.
The No 2 seed Karolina Pliskova could face AO20 quarter-finalist Ons Jabeur from Tunisia in the second round and Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens in the quarter-final.
Jabeur reached the quarters in Doha last year after scoring wins over Brady and Pliskova, while Bertens has not played a match since last October’s Roland Garros, where she lost to Martina Trevisan in the quarter-final, and has since undergone surgery on her left Achilles tendon.
After extensive rehabilitation, Bertens was first able to hit balls for 10 minutes on 31 December and has been cleared by her doctor to resume competition.
“For me, it’s tough to have any predictions because it’s my first tournament in a long time,” Bertens told reporters in Doha. “So it’s to be able to compete again, see where my level is, get the match rhythm again and try to enjoy my time on the match court again. That’s my first goal.
“We got here early because I have to play outdoors again, which is a huge difference. I practiced only indoors the last few weeks.”
The 31st-ranked Jabeur landed in the bottom half of the draw and opens her tournament against a qualifier.
“Honestly, I want to aim big in these two tournaments,” Jabeur told reporters ahead of the tournament. “I think it’s a big deal for an Arab man or woman to win one of these tournaments.
“If I were to win a title, I want it to be in either Doha or Dubai.
“I love it here. It doesn’t stress me to play in Arab countries. I want to see more tournaments in the Middle East and maybe North Africa.”
Last autumn, Sherif became the first Egyptian woman to qualify for the main draw at a Grand Slam at Roland Garros and became the first to win a main draw Grand Slam match at AO21.
The 24-year-old, who comes in ranked at a career-high No 114 and is in the top half of the draw, opens against Sakkari, the Greek, and a successful fortnight in the Middle East could put her into the Top 100 for the first time.
After more than a month in Australia, the tour now turns to the Middle East swing for the 19th staging in Doha, which is followed by the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships from Sunday, 7 March.