(MENAFN - Gulf Times) World No. 3 Simona Halep was handed a tricky draw as she chases her second title in the Qatar Total Open which gets underway at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex tomorrow.
The 27-year-old Romanian is already a 12-year veteran on the highly competitive WTA circuit, boasting 18 titles and nearly 30 million dollars in prize money since turning pro in 2006.
Romanian Halep, the 2014 winner in Doha and the top seed, has got a bye into the second round where she will play either World No. 19 Caroline Garcia of France or the 24th-ranked Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine before likely running into Australian cricketer-turned-tennis player Ashleigh Barty in the quarter-finals.
Barty, the World No. 13 and eighth seed in Qatar, had reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open last month where she lost to Petra Kvitova.
In the event of Halep winning her last-eight clash, she could run into 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark in the semi-finals. Wozniacki, the sixth seed, has been given a wildcard for the tournament, where she lost to Petra Kvitova in the semi-finals last year.
World No. 5 and second seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic has also received a tricky draw.
She will take on either Elise Mertens of Belgium or Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic in the second round before a possible meeting with former champion Carla Suarez Navarro.
Although Australian Open champion and World No. 1 Naomi Osaka has withdrawn due to an injury, this year's edition still boasts an impressive field with five of the world's top 10 and 12 of the top 20 battling it out for the top prize.
But the aggressive baseliner Halep is undoubtedly the favourite, with an aggressive game reminiscent of the Belgian great Justine Henin.
In fact Henin herself said of Halep: 'She has an intelligent game. There is a little something that reminds me of myself…it is offensive and aggressive.
Last year, Halep was chosen by ESPN as the 'most dominant tennis player of the year. The Romanian also won the WTA's Fan Favorite Singles player in 2017 and 2018, when she was beaten by Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in the semi-finals in Doha.
Halep, however, is representing her country in the Fed Cup in Ostrava is yet to arrive in Doha. Germany's Julia Goerges, the Czech Republic's Barbora Strycova and Oman's Fatma al-Nabhani were the only three players who attended the draw.
Al-Nabhani was surprised to hear she is making her 11th appearance in Doha.
'I'm surprised to hear that it's been eleven years since I have been playing at the Qatar Total Open. The time seems to have passed just like that, said the 27-year-old who has won ten singles titles on the ITF Tour.
She has been once again drawn to face her good friend Strycova in the first round.
'We were like, we going to play each other again! We played three years ago and now we've been drawn again so we'll see how it goes, she said.
Al-Nabhani, whose best singles ranking globally was 362 in 2010, nevertheless cherishes her long association with the Qatar tournament.
'It's been a nice journey. Each edition has been special for me. Thanks to Qatar and the Qatar Tennis Federation for wholly supporting me throughout and facilitating for players like me to participate in tournaments like this. It's a huge experience to be playing with the top players and competing against them.
Her first-round rival Strycova was also looking forward to the meeting. 'We played against each other two years ago and I'm really looking forward to this match. I've been here already a couple of days and getting ready and preparing myself good. I have had some good practice so I can't wait to step on the court and play the match already, she said
'I like it here. It's nice to come here. All the facilities are good and it's very convenient, the stay and the stadium. I find it to be a very nice tournament for us.
Meanwhile, Qatar Tennis, Squash and Badminton Federation Secretary-General Tareq Zainal said the Khalifa Complex was ready to host another great tournament. 'The Qatar Total Open is one of the best tournaments in the world. Everybody loves coming to Doha and we hope they have a great time here, Zainal said after the draw yesterday at the Four Seasons Hotel.
'We have four wildcards, two of which are given to top-20 players Caroline Wozniacki and Elina Svitolina and the remaining two have gone to Fatma al-Nabhani of Oman and Ons Jabeur of Tunisia as part of our policy to encourage budding Arab players, Zainal added
Managing Director of Total E & P Qatar Laurent Wolffsheim, Tournament Director Saad al-Mohannadi and QTSBF Board Member Karim Alami were among those present at the draw ceremony.
Germany's Julia Goerges (centre), the Czech Republic's Barbora Strycova and Oman's Fatma al-Nabhani (right) at the draw ceremony yesterday.