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Serena, Radwanska Lead Elite WTA Dubai Field

Feb 17th 2014

There is no room to hide in the (literally) Premier draw in Dubai, more impressive than the field in last week’s Premier Five tournament in Doha.  Only one woman outside the top 10 received a seed, and no woman outside the top 30 received direct entry other than via a wildcard.  Australian Open semifinalist Eugenie Bouchard found herself forced to play qualifying to participate in a tournament with bruising blockbusters set from the start.

Serena Williams

First quarter:  Recovering from her Australian Open back injury sooner than she might have thought, Serena Williams took a wildcard into the Dubai draw.  In a field of such quality, she will face tests from the outset.  Serena’s potential opening opponent, Ekaterina Makarova, upset her at the Australian Open two years ago, while fifth seed Jelena Jankovic extended her to a final set at the year-end championships last fall.  Jankovic’s movement and consistency still make her a threat to Serena when she is either physically or emotionally below her best.  Still recovering from an injury of her own, American No. 2 Sloane Stephens might not last long in this thorny section of the draw.

Second quarter:  Another Dubai wildcard went to Nadia Petrova, hoping to eke out a few more memorable results after personal adversity sidelined her.  The Russian veteran must serve impressively to trouble third seed and defending champion Petra Kvitova, who has won both of their previous meetings.  In addition to Petrova’s comeback and Kvitova’s unpredictability, this section also offers some variety with the presence of clay specialist Carla Suarez Navarro and Wimbledon semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens.  The one constant may be Simona Halep, dominant at non-majors over the last nine months with none of her seven titles more significant than the Premier Five event in Doha last week.

Third quarter:  While doubles partner Roberta Vinci still searches for her first win of 2014, Sara Errani has shown signs of life in February.  The good news for Errani is that eighth seed Caroline Wozniacki has struggled even more than she has this year, wallowing through coaching uncertainty and passages of tentative play.  The bad news is that the unseeded names in this section could be dangerous, especially Samantha Stosur.  Although Errani has won their last two meetings, Stosur has won all four of their matches on outdoor hard courts.  Sabine Lisicki might intrigue more if she hadn’t issued three walkovers in her last five tournaments.

Ana Ivanovic

Fourth quarter:  An early meeting with Ana Ivanovic loomed for Angelique Kerber in Doha, but it never happened after the Serb stumbled in an earlier round.  By contrast, Kerber recorded her most significant achievement since 2012 in reaching that Premier Five final.  She should take more confidence into their first-round meeting—and Ivanovic less confidence—than if they had met a week ago.  The last of Dubai’s three wildcards went to Venus Williams, nearly able to upset Kvitova last week.  A former champion in Dubai, Venus fell to Ivanovic last month and has lost her last three meetings with Kerber.  Second seed Agnieszka Radwanska missed a chance to exploit the depleted Doha field last week and has less margin for error this time.