Russian former world No 1 has received wild card to compete in February 19-24 tournament
Maria Sharapova confirmed to play in 2018 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
Maria Sharapova is set to return to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships next month after the former world No 1 accepted a wild card to play in the WTA tournament, the organisers confirmed on Wednesday.
The five-time grand slam champion, who will make her second appearance in the February 19-24 tournament, had included Dubai in her schedule of events for the year, as reported first by The National on Tuesday.
During her last visit in 2006, Sharapova beat Martina Hingis and defending champion Lindsay Davenport before falling in the final to Justine Henin. This time, too, she is likely to face a stiff challenge from a number of top-draw players.
Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, world No 3 and reigning champion Elina Svitolina, former world No 1 Karolina Pliskova and two-time grand slam winner Angelique Kerber are among 12 players who are ranked in the top 20 competing in the UAE. The line up also includes 2017 US Open runner up Madison Keys and Australian No 1 Ashleigh Barty.
"Maria Sharapova has enjoyed much success and won many titles, but she will face very strong opponents here who are equally keen to claim the title," said Colm McLoughlin, executive vice-chairman and chief executive of Dubai Duty Free. "It will be interesting to see if she can fight off her eager challengers who will be determined to make headlines by beating one of the legends of the game."
Tournament director Salah Tahlak was also thrilled to welcome the Russian back to the emirate.
"It is a pleasure to welcome such a popular player back to Dubai and we look forward to seeing how she fares against so many other contenders for the title," Tahlak said.
Sharapova, who returned from a 15-month doping suspension last April, suffered a string of early defeats after her comeback but has been working her way back up the rankings since.
She broke through to win the Tianjin Open in October - her first title since 2015 - and enjoyed a run to the semi-final in Shenzhen to start the year. She began her Australian Open campaign in impressive fashion before being thrashed by Kerber in the third round.
The women's tournament will be followed by the men's competition, from February 26-March 3, with world No 4 and ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov having been confirmed to play.
Meanwhile Roger Federer, who won his 20th grand slam title at the Australian Open when he beat Marin Cilic in the final on Sunday, revealed that he was in talks with organisers prior to the trip down under.
The 36-year-old Swissman opted to delay his decision until the Australian Open finished.
Grandstand ticket prices for the WTA event start at Dh55 for opening rounds to Dh735 for the ATP finals, with daily Prime A and Prime B tickets and season tickets also available. Tickets are available at the box office, open from 9am-9pm every day. Go to http://www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com/en/tickets for ticket sales.