Sharapova all set to dazzle Dubai
The Russian five-time Grand Slam winner last played here in 2006
Superstar Maria Sharapova is set to make a long-awaited return to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships after accepting a wild card to join a field of top contenders for one of the most sought-after titles on the WTA Tour.
The Russian five-time Grand Slam winner last played here in 2006 and defeated former champion Martina Hingis and defending champion Lindsay Davenport before falling in the final to another former Dubai champion, Justin Henin. Her success both before and after her visit here has led to her becoming a household name around the world.
There is no question that Sharapova is one of the greatest players of the last 15 years. She has won 36 career titles to date, including the Australian Open, the US Open and Wimbledon, all once, and Roland Garros twice. She also won the WTA Finals in 2004 and the Fed Cup in 2008, before winning a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics. She also reached five other Grand Slam finals and appeared in the finals of 17 other events.
After reaching the quarterfinals of the 2016 Australian Open where she was beaten by Serena Williams, she missed the next 15 months before returning to the WTA Tour in some style in April 2017, reaching the semifinals in her first tournament back, in Stuttgart. A thigh injury then forced her to miss a significant part of last season, restricting her European clay court campaign and forcing her to miss the entire grass court season. An arm injury then affected her during the run-up to the US Open, but she recovered in time to cause one of the biggest upsets of the last Grand Slam of the year when she overcame world number two Simona Halep in the opening round. Just a few weeks after that she claimed her 36th career title in Tianjin without dropping a set in her five matches.
She made an impressive start to this season too with a semifinal in Shenzhen, and was unlucky to run into one of the hottest players on the WTA Tour this year, Angelique Kerber, in the third round of the Australian Open.
But Sharapova will face strong competition as she bids to add her first Dubai trophy to her trophy cabinet.
"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 CEO 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."
"Sharapova is one of the most famous athletes in the world, and in 2014 she became the first tennis player, male or female, to pass 15 million fans on Facebook," said tournament director Salah Tahlak. "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."
Sharapova is just one of the stars who are set to descend on Dubai for a two week extravaganza of top-class entertainment, which begins with the WTA event that takes place from February 19 to 24 and includes three former world number ones: Wimbledon winner Garbine Muguruza; 2018 Sydney champion, two-time Grand Slam winner and Australian Open semifinalist Angelique Kerber; and 2016 US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova. Also in the line-up is defending Dubai champion and recent Brisbane winner Elina Svitolina, 2017 US Open runner-up Madison Keys, and Australian number one and 2018 Sydney runner-up Ashleigh Barty. The tournament continues from February 26 to March 3 with the 26th staging of the ATP World Tour event which includes and ATP World Tour Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov.
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