Fans attending the Qatar Total Open 2014, which gets underway on Monday at the Khalifa Tennis Complex and goes through Feb. 16 – may be disappointed to hear that two of its stars, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, have pulled out of the women’s tennis tournament due to injury.
World No. 1 Williams and defending champion Azarenka both announced their withdrawals via emailed statements sent to journalists over the weekend.
Williams explained that she’s still suffering from a back injury sustained during the Australian Open, while two-time Doha champion Azarenka said she was still recovering from a foot injury.
Speaking at the tournament’s draw ceremony yesterday, Karim Alami, Qatar Exxon Mobil tournament director, acknowledged that the news was disappointing:
“Serena Williams and Azarenka are great players and they attract a lot of crowds. This is sports and it happens sometimes, but I wouldn’t say it would affect the success of the tournament.”
Many other high-ranked players will still be competing in the $2.5 million tournament, however, with World No. 3 Na li, world No. 4 Agneiszka Radwanska, world No. 6 Petra Kvitova and former world No.1 Ana Ivanovic all slated to play.
Ivanovic has had a great year so far, after winning the ASB Classic title in Auckland, and beating Serena Williams for the first time in her career to reach the semifinals of the Australian open. She told journalists gathered for the draw ceremony that she was “happy to be back” in Doha, although she’s still recovering from jet lag:
“I have been here for five days, so I am still adjusting to the time difference, but it is always good to be back and to see new buildings coming up.”
Israeli participation controversy
The draw ceremony was the focus of criticism from a pro-Palestinian group this year, following the initial inclusion of Israeli player Shahar Peer.
Qatar Youth Opposed to Normalization (QAYON) had written a letter to the head of the Qatar Tennis Federation, Saad Bin Saleh Al-Mohannadi, to protest at her participation.
QAYON member Esraa explained the group’s stance in an email to Doha News:
“We believe Qatar should heed the Palestinian call to boycott Israel, until it complies with international law and ends its colonial occupation of Palestinian land. Shahar Peer’s presence sends a message that Qatar does not care for the rights of oppressed athletes.”
However, it’s emerged that Peer, who is ranked No. 86 globally, will actually not appear at the tournament this year, after her ranking was deemed too low to take part, and her name was not selected at the draw ceremony.
When asked to respond to concerns raised by QAYON, Al-Mohannadi told Doha News:
“This is sport and anyone can participate anytime, anywhere. The only reason she (Peer) is not here is just because she is not in the main draw, full stop.”
Tickets are still available for the tournament. They can be purchased from Villaggio, City Center, Landmark, Lagoona, the Khalifa International Tennis & Squash Complex and online.
Are you planning to go? Thoughts?