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
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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.


Finch's century helps fire Australia to eight-wicket win over Pakistan

Updated 23 March 2019
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Finch's century helps fire Australia to eight-wicket win over Pakistan

SHARJAH: Aaron Finch's fine century drove Australia to a convincing eight-wicket win over a new-look Pakistan in the first one-day international on Friday.
The Austraian skipper scored 116 off 135 balls for his 12th one-day international century that helped his team overhaul the 281-run target in 49 overs on a flat Sharjah stadium pitch.
The win gives Australia the lead in the five-match series and has come on the back of their 3-2 series win in India earlier this month.
Finch's match-winning knock overshadowed Haris Sohail's maiden one-day hundred (101 not out) which helped Pakistan to 280-5 in their 50 overs.
The 32-year-old smashed Shoaib Malik for a huge six towards deep mid-wicket to complete his century -- his first since June last year against England at Chester-Le-Street -- off 120 balls.
Finch, who knocked four sixes and eight boundaries, added an innings-building 172 runs for the second wicket with Shaun Marsh who scored an unbeaten 91 off 102 balls with four boundaries and two sixes.
With 46 needed Finch became Mohammad Abbas's maiden wicket but Peter Handscomb hit 30 not out to help Marsh cross the line.
Finch and Marsh came together after opener Usman Khawaja fell for 24 to medium pacer Faheem Ashraf, the only other success Pakistan's new-look bowling attack could achieve.
Pakistan rested six of their key players including regular skipper Sarfraz Ahmed in order to keep them fresh for the World Cup starting in UK from May 30.
But the young and inexperienced Pakistan led by Malik proved no match for Australia, who are on a roll after their win in India earlier this month.
Left-hander Sohail, who reached 1,000 runs in his 27th one-day international when on 40, anchored Pakistan's innings, adding 98 for the third wicket with Umar Akmal who made a 50-ball 48 in his first international match for two years.
Sohail took a single to complete his hundred in the last over, finishing with six boundaries and a six.
Pakistan had handed one-day debuts to opener Shan Masood and Abbas -- who have played 15 and 14 Tests respectively.
Masood put on 35 in an opening stand with Imam-ul-Haq (17) before off-spinner Nathan Lyon dismissed Imam in the seventh over, caught and bowled.
Masood, who hit five boundaries in his 62-ball 40, was then bowled by paceman Nathan Coulter-Nile who finished with 1-38 in his 10 overs.
Umar smashed three sixes in one Jhye Richardson over but fell one short of his half century.
Malik fell for 11 and Ashraf and Imad Wasim scored 28 each.
Wasim hit four boundaries and a six during his 13-ball unbeaten knock, helping Pakistan to 55 runs in the last five overs.
Sunday's second ODI is also being played in Sharjah, with the third in Abu Dhabi (March 27) and the last two in Dubai (March 29 and 31).