DUBAI // A first-round duel between an Arab and an Israeli could be a possible show stealer as the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships starts its 20th anniversary celebrations with a strong line-up for the WTA Premier tournament.
The championship begins tomorrow with six of the WTA's top 10, led by the world No 1 Victoria Azarenka, competing for the winner's purse of US$446,778 (Dh1.6 million).
The top four seeds - Azarenka, the world No 3 Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki, the No 4, and the No 5 Samantha Stosur - have been given a bye into the second round, but there will be no shortage of headlines from the opening rounds.
Top of the list will be the match between the two wild cards, Oman's Fatma Al Nabhani and Shahar Peer of Israel.
Al Nabhani did not want to comment on her opening-round match, but a local tennis official brushed aside the political aspects of the match.
Peer was denied entry to the UAE for the tournament in 2009, earning widespread criticism, including from the WTA.
"This is a tennis match," the official said, requesting not to be named. "It is not the battle of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. So let us just take this match for what it is - a tennis game between a young and upcoming player and a proven performer."
In other interesting first-round duels, Svetlana Kuznetsova, a two-time grand slam winner, meets Julia Goerges; Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 French Open champion and seventh seed, opens her campaign against the former world No 1 Ana Ivanovic; and Agnieszka Radwanska, the world No 6, starts off against Sabine Lisicki.
"I love being in Dubai and I do my pre-season here," said Kuznetsova, who has made three finals in nine appearances.
"I come here always and just have a good time - on the tournament, off the tournament. It's always great to be here.
"I hope to do well here one day. It's good to play this tournament and try my best, harder and harder every day to be better."
While the Russians fans will fills the stands again to cheer for Kuznetsova, the Indians will have no representation as Sania Mirza lost in the first round of the qualifying yesterday. Aleksandra Wozniak came back from a set down to beat her 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.
The Tunisian Ons Jabuer, the 2011 French Open girl's champion, stayed on course for her first place in the main draw with a 6-3, 7-6 win over Zheng Jie of China.