With the new Abu Dhabi Women’s Open due to start on Wednesday, players are heading to Dubai for the Australian Open qualifying event, which begins on Sunday.
From the beginning of all our planning for the Australian Open, our objective has been to provide the players with as many competition opportunities, and the ability to earn prize money, as we possibly could. Craig Tiley, Australian Open Tournament Director
The AO qualifying has a 128-player draw competing for 16 spot in the main draw that will kick off at Melbourne Park from 8 February.
The decision to host the qualifying event offshore is due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“From the beginning of all our planning for the Australian Open, our objective has been to provide the players with as many competition opportunities, and the ability to earn prize money, as we possibly could,” said Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley.
Timea Babos, two-time Australian Open and Roland Garros doubles champion and one half of the 2020 WTA Doubles Team of the Year, is among the entrants in the singles qualifying field.
Former WTA World No 5 and 2014 Australian Open semi-finalist Eugenie Bouchard and experienced Swiss player Stefanie Vogele, who is vying to make her eighth Australian Open main draw appearance, will also compete in Dubai.
Other notable contenders include Australian Open 2012 quarter-finalist Sara Errani, former WTA World No 20 Mihaela Buzarnescu, 2020 US Open quarter-finalist Tsvetana Pironkova and former WTA World No 35 CiCi Bellis.
Nine Australian women will compete in Dubai, with Kimberly Birrell and Ellen Perez joining qualifying wildcards Seone Mendez, Abbie Myers, Storm Sanders, Ivana Popovic, Olivia Gadecki, Charlotte Kempenaers-Pocz, Alexandra Bozovic in the qualifying field.
Players will need to win 3 best-of-three sets qualifying matches to make the main draw.
Following the event, the 16 qualifiers will be joined by a further 6 alternate players and travel to Australia to undertake 14 days of mandatory quarantine with other main draw players.
The qualifying draw will be held on Saturday, January 9.
Meanwhile, the draw for Abu Dhabi has yet to be published, but it is understood that the 64-player field will be led by Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, World No 5 Elina Svitolina, former World No 1 Karolina Pliskova and Aryna Sabalenka, winner of the last two WTA titles of the 2020 season.
Joining that quartet of top 10 players are former Roland Garros champions Garbiñe Muguruza, Jelena Ostapenko and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Among the game’s rising stars on the entry list are Coco Gauff, Elena Rybakina, Elise Mertens and Marketa Vondrousova.
The 2020 Roland Garros semi-finalist, Nadia Podorska, and two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Ons Jabeur are also in the field along with World No 22 Maria Sakkari.
As a pair, Mertens & Sabalenka head the 32-pair doubles field alongside the Czech partnership of Barbora Krejcikova & Katerina Siniakova.
Belinda Bencic, the World No 12, has opted out of Abu Dhabi despite intending to play both there and in Melbourne, preferring to concentrate on her training instead.
The decision comes as a blow to Kenin, who had hoped to team up with the Swiss in the doubles at both events.
Bencic joins a growing list of absentees from the Abu Dhabi field, including Saisai Zheng, Caroline Garcia, Jelena Ostapenko, Danielle Collins, Patricia Maria Tig, Katerina Siniakova and Alison Van Uytvanck.
As for the World No 1 and 2, both Ash Barty and Simona Halep were never planning to play in the Gulf.
While Barty had no intention of leaving Australia, Halep said recently: “I have no injuries, but I decided it was better to go straight to Australia. There were also restrictions in Abu Dhabi, and it would have been difficult for me to stay in the hotel for 14 days, and then another 14 days in quarantine.
“I decided so because I felt it was a good decision, considering that in 2020, at tournaments, it was not easy for me.”
Qualifying for Abu Dhabi begins on Tuesday, while main draw action starts on Wednesday, which can be followed on Amazon Prime Video.
Elsewhere, on the ITF Women’s World Tennis Tour, there are W15 events in Cairo, Antalya and Monastir this week, which can be viewed live via ITFtennis.com.