Victoria Azarenka could reclaim the No. 1 ranking from Serena Williams in Dubai this week. (AP)
The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. With the top men taking a breather, the focus is on Dubai, where the WTA No. 1 ranking is on the line once again.
Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
Eight of the top 10 women move on to Dubai in a packed draw that once again features the top two players, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka (Maria Sharapova and Li Na are the two top five players absent). Williams, 31, will take over the No. 1 ranking on Monday, becoming the oldest WTA No. 1 in history. Her tearful reaction to winning her quarterfinal match against Petra Kvitova in Doha clearly undermined her claims that she hadn't been thinking about getting the top spot back. So the question now is how long she can hold on to it with Azarenka still right on her heels. Azarenka can reclaim the No. 1 ranking by making the final here, though if she meets Williams she'll have to beat her -- something she just accomplished in Qatar.
Williams has the tougher draw to the final, with her potential path including Marion Bartoli, Caroline Wozniacki and Kvitova, who pushed her to three sets last week. Azarenka could face a tricky second-round match against Dominika Cibulkova, who returns after withdrawing from Doha with a calf injury. Cibulkova played Azarenka tough last year, beating her at the French Open and almost knocking her out of Miami. Otherwise it's a fairly straightforward half, with potential matches against Sara Errani, Sam Stosur or Angelique Kerber.
One potential clash to keep an eye on is Sloane Stephens vs. Azarenka. Stephens, the last main-draw acceptance, could face Azarenka in the third round in their first matchup since their controversy-drenched semifinal at the Australian Open.
First Round: Sloane Stephens vs. Sorana Cirstea; Ana Ivanovic vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova; Laura Robson vs. Yulia Putintseva; Lucie Safarova vs. Caroline Wozniacki.
Potential Second Round: Serena Williams vs. Marion Bartoli; Petra Kvitova vs. Ana Ivanovic/Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Potential Third Round: Angelique Kerber vs. Sam Stosur; Petra Kvitova vs. Agnieszka Radwanska; Serena Williams vs. Caroline Wozniacki.
U.S. National Tennis Indoor Championships
This lower-level ATP/WTA joint event features all the top American men sans Mardy Fish, who is still dealing with complications from his heart issue, and a number of must-see American women, including Madison Keys, Jamie Hampton and Lauren Davis. Keep an eye on Keys' first-round match against Sabine Lisicki. It's a shame there won't be a stream for that must-watch match.
The men undoubtedly have the stronger field. Top 20 players Marin Cilic, Milos Raonic, John Isner and Sam Querrey are the top four seeds. (No. 34 Kirsten Flipkens is the top seed on the women's side.) Cilic won Zagreb two weeks ago and Raonic, Isner and Querrey all made the San Jose semifinals (as did Tommy Haas, who is seeded No. 6 here). In fact, the draw features possible early rematches of both the Zagreb and San Jose finals, with Cilic potentially meeting Jurgen Melzer in the second round and Raonic slated to play Haas in the third round.
Men First Round: Jack Sock vs. Milos Raonic; John Isner vs. Denis Istomin; Sam Querrey vs. Alejandro Falla; Ryan Harrison vs. Lukasz Kubot; Lleyton Hewitt vs. Lu Yen-Hsun; James Blake vs. Florian Mayer.
Men Potential Second Round: Milos Raonic vs. James Blake; Tommy Haas vs. Feliciano Lopez; John Isner vs. Lleyton Hewitt; Ryan Harrison vs. Fernando Verdasco; Marin Cilic vs. Jurgen Melzer.
Men Potential Third Round: Milos Raonic vs. Tommy Haas.
Women First Round: Madison Keys vs. Sabine Lisicki; Jamie Hampton vs. Garbine Muguruza; Lauren Davis vs. Ksenia Pervak.
Fresh off winning his first title of the year in Rotterdam, Juan Martin del Potro is in Marseille to defend his title as the No. 2 seed behind Tomas Berdych. In fact, it's a strong field for an ATP 250, as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Janko Tipsarevic and Richard Gasquet bring the number of top 10 players to five.
Three players to keep an eye on here are Tsonga, Bernard Tomic and Jerzy Janowicz. Tsonga took a bad first-round loss to Igor Sisjling last week, and Tomic and Janowicz fell in the first round of Rotterdam. I'm still not sold on Janowicz's bona fides. He hasn't made it past the first round of an ATP tournament since making the finals of Paris last year, losing to Brian Baker in Auckland and now Victor Hanescu in Rotterdam. Meanwhile, Tomic said all through Australia that he needed to learn to summon his best when not playing on home soil to raise his ranking. He has eighth-seeded Martin Klizan in the first round here.
First Round: Ernests Gulbis vs. Jarkko Nieminen; Jerzy Janowicz vs. Lukas Rosol; Bernard Tomic vs. Martin Klizan.
Potential Second Round: Tomas Berdych vs. Ernests Gulbis; Richard Gasquet vs. Gael Monfils; Benoit Paire vs. Bernard Tomic; Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Nikolay Davydenko.
Potential Third Round: Richard Gasquet vs. Janko Tipsarevic; Tomas Berdych vs. Jerzy Janowicz.
Rafael Nadal is taking the week off, so it's the usual clay-court suspects this week as David Ferrer returns to competition to defend his title in Buenos Aires. He's the top seed, followed by Nicolas Almagro, Stanislas Wawrinka and Thomaz Bellucci. Ferrer could could face Sao Paulo finalist David Nalbandian in the second round.
XXI Copa Claro Colsanitas
Consider me shocked to see Jelena Jankovic on the top line of the Bogota draw. Jankovic, who lost in the first round of Doha, presumably didn't want to play qualies in Dubai and has flown all the way to South America instead. That's some questionable scheduling considering she's set to play Kuala Lumpur next week before flying back to North America, but I suppose it's expected for a player who's dropped out of the top 30 and is trying to boost her ranking. In addition to Jankovic, who hasn't won a title in almost three years (Indian Wells 2010), another player to keep an eye on is Flavia Pennetta, who returns after a six-month absence with a wrist injury.