Peng Shuai eyes return at Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge


Dubai: Former Grand Slam champion Peng Shuai will be one of the several stars in action at next week’s 21st Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge (AHTC) to be held at the Habtoor Grand Beach Resort and Spa.

Peng, who will turn 33 in January, had to serve six months away from the sport after the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) had found her guilty of attempting to change her doubles partner at the 2017 Wimbledon Championships.

An investigation revealed that the Chinese player had tried to encourage her partner to withdraw from the doubles with the use of a financial incentive.

However, the resilient player has now bounced back after serving the ban by qualifying for the 2019 Australian Open while winning last week’s Asia-Pacific Wildcard Play-offs. Peng was leading Chang Kai-chen 6-2, 1-0 when her 27-year-old opponent from Taiwan withdrew due to an injury.

Peng reached a career-high ranking of world No. 1 in doubles by the WTA on February 17, 2014, making her the first Chinese tennis player (male or female, and in singles or doubles) to reach world No. 1. She was also ranked as high as No. 14 in the singles in August 2011. She won a gold medal at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou and at the 2013 Wimbledon Championships, Peng won her first with Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan and again teamed up with the same player to claim the 2014 French Open.

Former top-10 player and multiple Grand Slam champion Kristina Mladenovic of France spearheads one of the strongest fields at the annual tournament that will get under way with the qualifying rounds on Saturday. At least 10 players from the top-100 on the WTA Tour have confirmed their presence including Viktoria Kuzmova (No. 54) from Slovakia, Tatiana Maria (74) from Germany, Evgenia Rodina (75) from Russia, Mona Barthel (80) of Germany and Swiss girl Stefanie Voegele (83). The main rounds of the tournament will commence from Monday while the final will be on December 15.

Held under the patronage of Khalaf Al Habtoor, Chairman of Habtoor Group, this is a $100,000 tournament on the ITF Women’s Circuit that has traditionally attracted some of the top players in the past including the likes of Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, Sania Mirza and Maria Kirilenko.

ITF Supervisor Hani Al Khafief, who has been one of the few officials associated with this tournament since its beginning, was pleased with the response from some of the tennis stars who have already landed for this annual competition. “To have renowned names attending our tournament gives this event a huge advertisement within the tennis world,” Al Khafief told Gulf News.

“Over a period of time we have built a reputation as this tournament was the first-ever competition for women in this part of the world. Now after more than two decades we have had at least a handful of world No. 1s who have played here,” he added.

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