Crafty Romanian Monica Niculescu upset former five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 during first-round action at the Qatar Open on Monday. Needing two hours and 39 minutes to score her victory, Niculescu used her slice forehand and hard-hit backhand to off-set the rhythm of her opponent. Breaking serve on seven occasions, Niculescu overcame 11 aces from Sharapova and picked up her first victory over Sharapova on the WTA and will next face Magdalena Rybarikova or Fatma Al Nabhami in the second round.
Tuesday’s action in Qatar will feature a blockbuster between recent top 10 entrant Julia Goerges taking on former French Open finalist Lucie Safarova. Facing off in their fifth career encounter, the pair have not played on Tour since the 2014 Wimbledon Championships. Tied at two wins each, Goerges is currently the favorite to win the encounter according to the WTA betting odds by CrownBet. Regardless of the winner, this one should be an entertaining three setter that will be played under the lights.
Other players in the draw include Caroline Wozniacki, Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina, Garbine Muguruza, Karolina Plishkova and Jelena Ostapenko. Wozniacki and Halep recently met in the Australian Open final, a match won by Wozniacki in three tough sets. The victory Down Under was the first Major win for Wozniacki and it also claimed her the No. 1 ranking in the world. This week in Qatar once again features a unique opportunity where both Wozniacki and Halep could walk away with the top ranking in the world, should either of them win the event.
The absence of Serena Williams over the past year has certainly opened the door for many new faces on the WTA, and an array of new champions at the highest levels of the sport. The Hall of Fame American is set to make her return to action at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California next month.