Half of the world’s top 10 WTA stars return to the Qatar Total Open when the prestigious tournament gets underway in 2017 between 13-18 February.
Defending champion Carla Suarez Navarro will be absent for her Qatar Total Open title defence due to injury (as will last year’s surprise finalist Jelena Ostapenko), but the 2017 field is as strong as ever, led by Angelique Kerber, Karolina Pliskova, Dominika Cibulkova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Garbine Muguruza.
WTA Doha has a unique structure: It alternates as a Premier and Premier-5 level event with WTA Dubai each year. As a Premier 5-level event, Doha is the first of five on the calendar, joining Rome, Cincinnati, Toronto/Montreal and Wuhan in offering 900 ranking points to its champion as well as $2 million in prize money – which explains its success in attracting packed and star-studded fields. In 2014, for example, the 64-woman draw included Li Na, Agnieszka Radwanska, Halep, Ana Ivanovic, Eugenie Bouchard and Petra Kvitova. As a Premier event, the tournament still attracts immensely strong fields as it provides an opportunity for the world's top players to warm up for the Premier-5 level event in Dubai. In 2017 the Qatar Total Open is a Premier-level event.
First played in 2001, the Qatar Total Open in Doha has evolved from a Tier III tournament to a Premier 5 event which is the showpiece of the WTA Tour in the Middle East and continues to adapt and expand. Played at the Khalifa International Tennis Centre, which was the venue in 2009-10 for the WTA Tour’s season-ending championships as the tournament took a hiatus, the Qatar Total Open follows on from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and features an even better field on a yearly basis.
Doha, the economic and cultural capital of Qatar, committed back in 2001 to growing interest in women’s tennis in the region and was rewarded when five-time Grand Slam champion Martina Hingis took the inaugural title, defeating France’s Sabine Testud in the final. Nine-time Grand Slam Monica Seles took the title in 2002, followed by 2004 French Open champion Anastasia Myskina in 2003 – who returned to win back-to-back WTA Doha trophies in 2004 when the tournament was upgraded to Tier II status.
Russian players have always been successful at the Qatar Total Open and Maria Sharapova followed Myskina in the list of champions, defeating Alicia Molik in 2005 before Nadia Petrova defeated Amelie Mauresmo in 2006. Yet another luminary, seven-time Grand Slam champion Justine Henin, was the winner in 2007 over Svetlana Kuznetsova before the tournament was once again upgraded to a Tier I and Sharapova took her second title.
After the hiatus in 2009-10 while Doha hosted the WTA Finals, Vera Zvonareva won the tournament – now a Premier – in 2011 before Victoria Azarenka became the second player to win back-to-back titles in 2012-13 at what was now a Premier 5 event, defeating Samantha Stosur and Serena Williams respectively.
The 2014 Qatar Total Open saw Simona Halep crown her status as the breakthrough star of the season with the biggest title of her young career as she defeated Kaia Kanepi, Annika Beck, Sara Errani, Agnieszka Radwanska and Angelique Kerber to claim the WTA Doha title. Halep would go on to reach the French Open final, setting a precedent that would be followed by Lucie Safarova in 2015.
With a star-studded field including Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki, Agnieszka Radwanska and Venus Williams, it was Safarova – long a stalwart of the top 20 – who took her powerful left-handed game to new heights at the Khalifa International Tennis Centre in 2015. Unseeded, Safarova defeated former US Open champion Sam Stosur and seeds Ekaterina Makarova, Andrea Petkovic and Carla Suarez Navarro to reach the final, where she faced another unseeded player – 2012-13 Doha champion Victoria Azarenka. The former world no. 1, trying to rebuild her ranking after injury, had beaten Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams to reach the final but it was Safarova who went on to claim the biggest title of her career so far with a 6-4, 6-3 victory. The Czech would go on to reach the French Open final in the summer, losing to Serena Williams.
The 2016 Qatar Total Open draw was headlined by Angelique Kerber, fresh from winning her maiden Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska, but it was unassuming eighth seed Carla Suarez Navarro who claimed the biggest title of her career. The diminutive Spanish player with the beautiful one-handed backhand held steady amidst a slew of upsets, beating Radwanska in the semifinals to set up a final against rising star Jelena Ostapenko, the Latvian teenager who defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova and Petra Kvitova on the way to a surprise final appearance. Suarez Navarro's experience won the day as she recovered from a set down to claim the Doha title.
Will one of the big stars once again secure the Qatar Total Open silverware or will a surprise winner emerge from the pack? Don't miss the top-flight action from the WTA's prestigious Middle Eastern swing as the 2017 Qatar Total Open is played in Doha from 13-18 February.