Naomi Osaka throws down gauntlet to star-studded Dubai field

Naomi Osaka will face nine of the world’s top women players, including Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina, and Petra Kvitova. (File photo/AFP)
Updated 18 February 2019

Naomi Osaka throws down gauntlet to star-studded Dubai field

Tennis fans in Dubai are in for a treat this week as nine of the world’s top 10 women players do battle in the city to claim the Duty Free Championship crown, which starts today. Arab News picks out likely winners and glamor ties to keep an eye on during the tournament.

NAOMI OSAKA

The Japanese superstar, fresh from winning her second Grand Slam at the Australian Open last month, is playing her first event as world No. 1 and her first since her shock split with her coach Sascha Bajin.

The German had helped guide Osaka to back-to-back Grand Slam triumphs, with her win at the US Open last year. Osaka is yet to reveal why she decided to part ways with Bajin.

Regardless of events off-court, the Japanese will be the woman to beat and she will be playing the winner of the first-round tie between Kristina Mladenovic and Omani wildcard Fatma Al-Nabhani.

The last 12 months have seen a meteoric rise for Osaka. She started 2018 at number 68 in the WTA rankings. Going into the first Grand Slam of 2019, she was ranked 4th in the world, and thanks to Indian Wells now finds herself at the summit of women’s tennis. Expect her to go deep into the tournament in Dubai.

SIMONA HALEP

The Romanian could well face Osaka if she makes it to the semifinals, but will fancy her chances of reaching her first final in Dubai since she claimed the trophy in 2015. 

She will also be delighted that Serena Williams is not in Dubai, having been stopped in her tracks in Melbourne earlier this year by the American, her ninth defeat in 10 games to her nemesis.

She will also be buoyed by the fact that by virtue of reaching yesterday’s final in Doha, she is guaranteed to move up to world No. 2 before even serving a ball.

Halep will open her tournament against either a resurgent Eugenie Bouchard or Vera Lapko, with a tricky potential Doha rematch against Elize Mertens to come by the third round, which should she win would set up a blockbuster showdown against either Aryna Sabalenka or Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals. She comes into Dubai with the weight of expectation on her shoulders, but Halep should cope.

ELINA SVITOLINA

The two-time defending champion is part of an exclusive club as one of only three women to win back-to-back Dubai titles (Justine Henin and Venus Williams also accomplished the feat), and this week the No. 7 seed will be looking to go one better and win a third straight Dubai crown.

Svitolina will be disappointed she could not turn a commanding 4-1 lead over Halep in her Doha semifinal into a win, but will have put that loss behind her.

The Ukrainian will have to be at her best as she has been given a tough route to a potential final in Dubai. She opens against either Donna Vekic or Tunisian Ons Jabeur, the best-ranked Arab on the tour. A third-round battle with Garbine Muguruza looks likely, while Halep and Osaka could be waiting for her in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. It would be a remarkable achievement if Svitolina made it three in a row in Dubai.

PETRA KVITOVA

Having made the Australian Open final, Kvitova had to take a short break from the game to testify against the man who attacked her in 2016, reliving the traumatic life-threatening ordeal that left her with nerve damage in all five fingers of her left hand. Her courageous comeback on the tour was hailed by both players and fans.

“I’m not sure any day that I’ll be completely over that. I’m glad that this one’s over,” she said in Dubai on Saturday, referring to her testimony in court.

Kvitova knows what it takes to win in Dubai, having claimed the trophy in 2013, and opens her campaign against either Petra Martic or Katerina Siniakova in the second round.


Man United manager refuses to blame Pogba after penalty miss

Updated 20 August 2019

Man United manager refuses to blame Pogba after penalty miss

  • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says he allows both Pogba and Rashford to take spot kicks

WOLVERHAMPTON: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer refused to blame Paul Pogba after the Manchester United star missed a penalty in Monday’s 1-1 draw at Wolves after taking spot-kick duties from Marcus Rashford.

Pogba wasted a chance to give United their second successive Premier League win when his penalty was saved by Wolves keeper Rui Patricio.

It was the fourth missed penalty by Pogba since the start of last season. The French midfielder appeared to tell Rashford that he wanted to take it, even though his United teammate had scored from the spot against Chelsea last weekend.

United manager Solskjaer said he allows both Pogba and Rashford to take spot kicks.

“The two of them are the designated  penalty shooters and it’s up to them there and then who feels ‘this is mine’,” he said.

“Sometimes players just feel they are confident enough to score. Paul has scored so many penalties for us and today Rui Patricio made a good save.

“The two of them have been very confident. I like players with confidence and the feeling that ‘I can do this’.”

Former United star Gary Neville called on Solskjaer to resolve the issue before his team’s next penalty.

“They should decide in the dressing room who is the penalty taker — it’s embarrassing,” Neville told Sky Sports.

“This is a Manchester United penalty, this not a tombola, this is not under-fives on the school field.

“Rashford scored last week — take the penalty. But there wasn’t a leader out there. Something wasn’t right.”

Rashford revealed Pogba had said he wanted to take the kick and, publicly at least, the England striker had no problem with that.

“Paul wanted to take it, it’s that simple. Everybody can miss a penalty. He’s scored countless penalties for us so it’s normal to miss one.

“I took one last week so for me it’s no problem for him to take one this week.

“It’s unfortunate he didn’t score but it’s not on him, it’s as a team and we take it forward to the next game.”

It was a disappointing result for United after they dominated the opening period, with Solskjaer admitting they lost their way in a “sloppy” second half.

“First half was a mature performance. Second half was a bit sloppy. We are improving. We are a young team who will learn, we learned on the pitch today,” Solskjaer said.

“Wolves probably got the goal they deserve. I thought we took control again and could have won it.

“We get a penalty that normally would get us another two points, sometimes the keeper makes a good save.”

Solskjaer also refused to rule out Chile forward Alexis Sanchez leaving United before the close of the European transfer window.

Sanchez has been linked with a move to Inter Milan and was missing from United’s matchday squad at Molineux.

“Well, there’s still a couple of weeks left of the transfer window and there is a chance,” Solskjaer said.

“Some clubs have shown interest in Alexis, so we’ll see what happens. I can’t update you more than that.

“There are a few weeks for international transfers to go through but at the moment he’s our player.”