Noura Badawi, Tournament Director, Khalid Al Ali, players Sandra Samir, Isabelle Haverlag and Rosalie Van der Hoek along with Laith Al Ani and Sheetal Iyer, ITF Supervisor, at the press conference.
Gulf Today, Staff Reporter
Young champion Daria Snigur will take on Slovakian wild card Rebecca Sramkova as she attempts to become the only player to successfully defend her crown when the silver edition of the Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge gets under way at the Habtoor Grand Resort this week.
The 25th edition of the annual $100,000 (Dhs 367,000) competition started off with qualifying round matches on Sunday, while the main round matches will get under way from Monday (December 5).
Reigning singles champion Snigur has her eyes set on a rare back-to-back success. The 20-year-old won the title last year with an easy 6-3, 6-0 win over Kristina Kucova. Since then, the Ukrainian has shown tremendous poise while making her way up the WTA Tour rankings.
“It’s lovely to return to such pleasant weather. This place is special, not only because I won here last year, but also because it has so many other special memories for me. For sure, the idea is to go out there and take one match at a time,” Snigur said.
“It’s been a hectic year so far, but it has also been a special season wherein I have learnt so much and become a more mature player. Hopefully, this will be seen on court and I can become the first player to successfully defend my title here,” she added.
No one has won the title here more than once, with Japanese veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm being the closest player who could have achieved a double when she won in 2012, but ended runner-up two years later in 2014.
The draw for the 25th edition was held at the hands of Khalaf Al Habtoor, Founding Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group, and in the presence of Tournament Director Noura Badawi, ITF Supervisor Sheetal Iyer, former UAE player Khalid Al Ali and representatives from sponsors.
Top-seeded Snigur was drawn to take on Sramkova and the likelihood of facing top seed Diana Shnaider, while second-seeded and former multiple Grand Slam doubles champion Kristina Mladenovic will play one of the eight qualifiers in the lower half.
Third seeded Magdalena Frech will be up against Bibiane Schoofs – one of four Dutch players here this week.
Snigur will remember 2022 as the season of a great career step forward following her Grand Slam debut as a qualifier at the US Open earlier this year.
The shy Ukrainian showed promise following an upset win against former world No.1 and two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep before losing in straight sets to Rebecca Marino in the second round in New York.
These performances gave Snigur WTA rankings of world No. 124 in the singles in August, and a few months later she has managed to climb to a current all-time career-high of No. 146.
First held in 1998, and played at the Habtoor Grand Resort Autograph Collection, this tournament is classified as an ITF Women’s Circuit competition. The competition started off as an $25,000 ITF event, before being raised to a $75,000 tournament between 1999 to 2015.
Since 2016, the annual fixture has been upgraded to a $100,000 plus hospitality event on the ITF Women’s World Tennis Tour while attracting some of the top champions alongside a fast-improving breed of promising young stars.
Created by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor, Founding Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group, the annual tournament has managed to live up to its hype of encouraging the development of women’s tennis in the UAE and the region, while raising the profile of the sport across the Arab world.
Included in the long list of past champions are former Grand Slam winners and top-class players such as Sorana Cirstea (2020), Ana Bogdan (2019), Peng Shuai (2018), Belinda Bencic (2017), Kimiko Date-Krumm (2012), Sania Mirza (2010), Maria Kirilenko (2007), Kateryna Bondarenko (2006), Marion Bartoli (2005), Jelena Jankovic (2003) and inaugural winner Kyra Nagy (1998), who will also be playing in the singles and doubles this week.
Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge 2022 – W100+H
Dates: December 5-11
Venue: Habtoor Grand Resort Autograph Collection, Dubai Marina
Tournament Director: Ms Noura Badawi
Singles Qualifying: 32 (Started on Monday)
Main tournament draw starts: December 5 (draw of 32)