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Strong field assembles for Qatar Total Open

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams headline a strong field for the WTA’s Qatar Total Open that features 17 of the top 18 players in the world beginning here on Monday.

Belarussian Azarenka, fresh off her second straight title in Melbourne, is the tournament’s top seed and defending champion, with 15-time Grand Slam champion Willliams seeded second. The world’s No. 1 ranking could change hands here as Williams seeks to regain it for the first time in 2½ years.

Williams ended 2012 on a major roll, having won Wimbledon, the Olympics, the U.S. Open and the WTA Championship singles titles. She was favored at the Australian Open, but was knocked out in the quarterfinals by upstart compatriot Sloane Stephens, who is the 16th seed here. Williams has won 56 of her last 59 singles matches.

Sharapova, seeded third, is seeking her third title in this tournament, having previously won in 2008 and 2005. She clinched a career Grand Slam with her victory in the French Open last year, and looked invincible in Australia until falling to Li Na in the semfinals.

Williams and Sharapova could meet in the semifinals, while Azarenka may face fourth seed Agniezka Radwanska of Poland.

Also entered in the field are fifth seed Anqelique Kerber of Germany, sixth seed Sara Errani of Italy, seventh seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic and 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur, who is the eighth seed.

Former world No. 1s Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and Ana Ivanovic of Serbia are seeded 10th and 13th, respectively.

Russia’s Nadia Petrova, the 2006 champion in Doha and 11th seed this year, took part in Saturday’s draw ceremony and faces the possibility of meeting Williams in the quarterfinals.

“I am actually looking forward to playing her,” Petrova told the Gulf Times. “Though let’s not forget that there are other matches that I need to go through in order to meet her.”

Li is the only player in the top 18 in the world not present. She withdrew late last week due to an injury to her left ankle suffered in her loss in the final to Azarenka in Melbourne.

Ivanovic plays Austria’s Tamira Paszek in the first round, while Wozniacki is slated to meet a qualifier.

Stephens will take on Georgia’s Anna Tatishvili in her first-round match.

The top eight seeds have a bye into the second round.