Eight out of the top 10 names in women's tennis are heading to the UAE - with no dearth of exciting opening round clashes.
Dubai Tennis Championships: Women up for 'one of toughest' events
DUBAI // Julia Goerges, last year's losing finalist, is not allowing herself to envisage going one step further this time around at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, but is instead focusing only on overcoming her first-round opponent after drawing world No 7 Sara Errani.
Errani, who reached the final of the French Open last June before losing to Maria Sharapova, is among eight of the world's top 10 who will be seen in action at the Aviation Club over the coming week, which gets underway tomorrow.
The top four seeds - the Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, the new world No 1 Serena Williams, world Nos 4 and 6 Agnieszka Radwanska and Angelique Kerber - have been given a bye to the second round. But there will be no dearth of exciting clashes in the first round, with Goerges against Errani topping that list.
"I have a first-round challenge with a top 10 player and it's going to be tough enough for me," said Goerges, who lost to Radwanska in last year's final after defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova and Caroline Wozniacki along the way.
"Hopefully I will be ready for that. But thinking of going one step further [than last year], I don't do it. Maybe I can surprise myself, but first of all I should take the challenge of the first round.
"You have to play a pretty good level of tennis and beat a lot of great players. I had a good run last year, which doesn't mean anything for this year, but still you have the feeling you can beat those players and you try to do the best you can on court.
"It is one of the biggest tournaments. You always want to come back. Only the best players are competing here. So for me it's a big challenge, playing the best players. That's how you get better."
Another first-round clash that is sure to draw the crowds is the one involving former world No 1 Ana Ivanovic and the Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The winner will set up a showdown against the world No 8 Petra Kvitova in the second round.
"That's definitely a tough one, but the tournament, as you can see, is a small draw and all the top players, we have to compete against each other from the first round," Pavlyuchenkova said. "It's one of the toughest tournaments, I would say.
"So I was ready for this. Everyone knew it would not be easy. We have played a couple of times and I think I have never beaten her [Ivanovic]. So it would be a great challenge and I am looking forward to it.
"I am feeling good. I had a break and was in Paris training, so hopefully it will pay off and I will be able to show some good game here."
The only top 10 names missing the tournament are world No 3 Sharapova and No 5 Li Na. While Sharapova's absence may be seen as a set back, organisers have made sure of drawing in the British expatriates by offering Laura Robson, a rising star, a wild-card entry.
Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli, runner-up at Wimbledon in 2007, has also received a wild card along with the Kazakhstan teenager Yulia Putintseva.
Robson, who defeated Kvitova at the Australian Open, meets Putintseva in her opening match. The winner will take on the defending champion Radwanska in the second round. Bartoli will face Williams if she wins her opening match against Klara Zakopalova, while Azarenka, the top seed, awaits the winner of the Nadia Petrova and Dominika Cibulkova game.
Kerber, who finished 2012 as the world No 5, will meet the winner of the match between Roberta Vinci and a qualifier, and she said she cannot wait to get started.
"My preparation was good and I'm feeling very good," the German said. "I'm just trying to improve my game and continue on my form from last year. I'm really looking from round to round and then we will see what happens."
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