Dubai’s 26-player draw also didn’t offer many places to hide; while the event isn’t mandatory, it does come with an enticing $2,000,000 purse. In her opener, Halep had to face former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic. Bencic lost to Jelena Jankovic, another former No. 1. Muguruza lost to 21st-ranked Elina Svitolina, who came to the event with a new coach, Justine Henin. And the No. 6 seed, Karolina Pliskova, went out to CoCo Vandeweghe, the woman who beat her at Wimbledon last year.
In other words, the carnage in Dubai isn’t quite as stunning as it first seems. And the fact that quality players like Ivanovic, Jankovic, Svitolina, Andrea Petkovic, Barbora Strycova, Kiki Mladenovic, Sara Errani, Caroline Garcia, Julia Georges, Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, and Ekaterina Makarova were all floating unseeded does show that there’s a well of talent that extends far beyond the WTA’s Top 15. It’s not a surprise to see any of them beat a Top 10 opponent.
But while all of these players can pull off an upset, all of them can have an upset pulled on them just as quickly. Ivanovic, Jankovic, and Goerges knocked off seeds, and then were defeated 24 hours later. Petkovic won two matches, then lost to a player—Garcia—ranked 10 spots below her. The top tier is preyed upon by the second tier, which is then preyed upon by the third tier. What we’re left with are more unanswerable questions: Is the constant churn created by parity more interesting than the sense of order that a strong group of top players brings? Why aren’t obviously gifted players like Pliskova, Garcia, Mladenovic, and Petkovic more consistent from week to week? Is talent the same as depth?
A final pitting No. 22 Errani vs. No. 47 Strycova is probably not what Dubai tournament officials had in mind—the last four champions have been Radwanska, Kvitova, Venus Williams, and Halep. But fans who follow the game closely, and who don’t need to see the stars every week, may have a different opinion. Where some see chaos, we see an opportunity to watch lesser-known favorites get a shot at a title. To me, Strycova, with her mix of melodrama and resourcefulness, is an underrated entertainer; maybe she can build on this run. If you’re interested enough, there’s always a storyline to follow.