Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 8 April 2020

Dubai Tennis takeaways: Simona Halep a fitting champion but can Novak Djokovic actually go unbeaten this year?

Dan Evans and Elena Rybakina also made major impressions in Dubai this year

Two weeks of world class tennis at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships reached its conclusion on Saturday night as Novak Djokovic was crowned the men’s winner for a fifth time. The world No 1’s triumph took place seven days after Simona Halep clinched the women’s title. As the WTA and ATP Tours now head to the United States, here are the key takeaways from Dubai.

Djokovic can’t go unbeaten – can he?

Novak Djokovic celebrates with the trophy after winning the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Getty Images
Novak Djokovic celebrates with the trophy after winning the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Getty Images

Novak Djokovic lived up to all expectations by winning the Dubai title. The top seed had to ride his luck in the semi-finals when he saved three match points against Gael Monfils, but aside from that, the Serb was typically dominant. That is now three tournaments played, three titles, and a perfect 18-0 record to start the season.

Djokovic joked after collecting the title that his aim now is to go unbeaten for the rest of the year. It would be a historic achievement: no player has won every match in a single campaign, John McEnroe’s 82-3 record in 1984 the best effort so far.

Yet, Djokovic is undoubtedly operating at the peak of his powers and it will take something special to deny him the upcoming ‘Sunshine Double’ of winning Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back, which he has already achieved four times. Win both of those events and his season will stand at 28-0.

While the biggest threat to his perfect record is likely to come on the Rafael Nadal-dominated clay courts of Europe, it is quite feasible that Djokovic could go unbeaten on hardcourts this season if he stays fit and healthy. He really is that much better than everyone else on the surface.

Evans on the rise

Dan Evans reached his first ATP 500 semi-final in Dubai. Reuters
Dan Evans reached his first ATP 500 semi-final in Dubai. Reuters

Dan Evans is certainly making the most of his second chance. A player often accused of not working hard enough to fulfill his talent, since returning from a one-year suspension in April 2018, the British player has knuckled down and is reaping the rewards in 2020.

Evans had already enjoyed an encouraging start to the season, but his Dubai campaign raised it to another level. Collecting his fourth and fifth wins of the year over top 20 players, Evans reached his first ATP 500 semi-final and has now earned a career-high ranking of No 27.

In the absence of the great Andy Murray, Evans has stepped up as the leading player of British tennis in terms of both ranking and expectations. It is still early days, so consistency for the rest of the season and beyond is key – but so far, so good for Evans.

2020 vision for Halep

Simona Halep with the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships trophy. Getty Images
Simona Halep with the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships trophy. Getty Images

There was perfect symmetry to Halep’s triumph in the WTA tournament: the Romanian top seed won the 20th edition of the Dubai Championships to take her career tally to 20 titles in the year 2020.

Even without all the 20-related parallels, Halep was a fitting champion for the anniversary championship. The top seed was involved in the best match of the tournament when a packed and raucous Centre Court crowd witnessed her comeback win over Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur in the second round, and she was comfortably the most supported player of the week.

This was Halep’s second title in Dubai following her win in 2015. Five years ago, she followed that victory by winning Indian Wells. Given her form and bright start to the season, the world No 2 will be a leading contender to do that particular double once again.

Rybakina won’t be ignored anymore

Elena Rybakina leads the WTA Tour in wins (19) and aces (132) so far this season. Reuters
Elena Rybakina leads the WTA Tour in wins (19) and aces (132) so far this season. Reuters

Elena Rybakina was so under the radar ahead of the Dubai Championships that she wasn’t even profiled in the official programme. It was a strange omission in itself, considering the 20-year-old’s remarkable start to the season. She arrived in Dubai with more wins this season (15) than any other female player, with a title and two finals in three WTA Tour events. One can only assume the programme went to press ahead of Rybakina’s emergence.

Either way, by the end of the week, Rybakina made sure that she won’t be ignored again. Her run to the final comprised wins over Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and second seed Karolina Pliskova, while her brand of powerful, attacking tennis won her a legion of new fans.

Now up to a career-high No 17 in the world rankings, Rybakina looks set for a bright future and based on her career trajectory so far, if she returns to Dubai next year, she won’t only be in the programme but could well feature on the billboards.

Updated: March 1, 2020 05:26 PM

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