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.


Australia's Usman Khawaja not thinking about World Cup spot with series against Pakistan to be won in UAE

Updated 26 March 2019
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Australia's Usman Khawaja not thinking about World Cup spot with series against Pakistan to be won in UAE

  • Batsman's place under threat thanks to return of disgraced duo Steve Smith and David Warner.
  • Aussie s 2-0 up against Pakistan with third ODI taking place in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

LONDON: Usman Khawaja is trying not to think about playing for a World Cup place ahead of today’s third ODI against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi.
Australia are 2-0 up in the five-match series but with the World Cup only two months away players are playing for their places in the tournament.
Despite scoring two 100s and four 50s in his past 10 innings since he was recalled to the Australia squad Khawaja’s place is under threat by the imminent return of David Warner and Steve Smith.
The disgraced duo are set to return after their year-long ban for ball tampering and currently playing in the Indian Premier League.
But that does not bother Khawaja who already has scored 24 and 88 in the first two ODI’s in the UAE.
“It’s (World Cup) a long way away. For me, it’s (about) the next three games, (Warner’s return) is not something I have thought about at all. I am just enjoying playing one-day cricket,” the 32-year-old said.
Australia and Khawaja have suddenly come into form at just the right time. They won 3-2 in India and are already 2-0 up against Pakistan. But all too aware that complacency can set in and keen to keep up the winning habit as they prepare for the World Cup, Khawaja has told his teammates to take nothing for granted.
“We saw in India they were 2-0 up and we came back to win that series. It is never quite over. We cannot take it easy now, we have got to finish it off that next game, we cannot relax, we can’t think that we have done all the hard work and that we are fine now,” the batsman said.
“There are still three games left and three games is a long time in cricket. We want to be really clinical and we have got to keep doing it over and over again. Winning’s a habit, so hopefully, we can make it a habit.”
Pakistan go into the clash under fire for comments made by their skipper Shoaib Malik after the defeat in Sharjah on Sunday. Having seen his side trounced by eight wickets Shoaib said Pakistan were simply using the series to “test their bench strength (ahead of the World Cup” and that “winning or losing doesn’t make a difference.”
The pressure is on the hosts and they will be looking for their attack to show some fire. The quicker bowlers in particular have struggled to put Australia under pressure with the new ball, having taken just four wickets all series, conceding a mammoth 566 runs.