Elena Rybakina enjoys first round bye in Abu Dhabi but danger lurks in deceptive draw

James Richardson
Elena Rybakina
Elena Rybakina serves

Elena Rybakina is set to reap the benefits of a long-awaited rankings boost after her run to the Australian Open final.

Rybakina will enjoy a first round bye at the WTA 500 Abu Dhabi Open as the third seed.

The Kazakhstan No 1 is among four players enjoying a bye through to the second round of the third WTA 500 event of the season.

The Middle East swing is an underrated source of rankings points and can set a player up for a successful season.

World No 8 Daria Kasatkina is the top ranked player in the field and the top seed, she is joined in the top four seeds by compatriot Veronika Kudermetova who is bracketed at the opposite end of the top half of the draw.

No 2 seed Belinda Bencic also joins Rybakina and Kasatkina as the three WTA Rankings top ten players in the field.

Kasatkina could be in for a huge test first up with big-serving Jil Teichmann a potential first opponent.

Teichmann will take on a qualifier in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi Open.

Kudermetova might view her bye as a mixed blessing given she will have to face one of either Elise Mertens or Martina Trevisan with the winner of that match benefitting from time on court ahead of the clash with the world No 11.

Rybakina will have to face a former world No 1 in the opening match of her Abu Dhabi Open campaign as she is bracketed alongside the clash between Karolina Pliskova and Garbine Muguruza.

Bencic will take on either Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine or Romanian Sorana Cirstea in her first match of the tournament.

In perhaps the matchup of the first round Danielle Collins will battle fifth seed Jelena Ostapenko. It has been nearly five years since the only meeting between the two in Miami where Ostapenko won out.

No 8 seed Liudmila Samsonova hasn’t been handed a kind draw as she is set to take on former World No 2 Paula Badosa in her opening match.

The handy Marie Bouzkova will be the first obstacle for Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia who carries the sixth seeding.

Seeding also offers little insulation for Anett Kontaveit ( No 7 seed) who will have to get beyond a top 30 opponent in Chinese veteran Shuai Zhang.

The draw dark horse might just be unseeded 20-year-old Qinwen Zheng, who displayed glimpses of her talent during a fantastic 2022 season.

Qinwen Zheng is slated to face a qualifier in the opening round and will then go on to meet the winner of the Collins vs Ostapenko match.

The Abu Dhabi Open hasn’t attracted any top five talents but the field is stacked with quality players.

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