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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 17 February 2019

Naomi Osaka faces fight from elite field: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships predictions

The Premier 5 event promises to be fiercely-contested, with 15 of the top 20 in action, including the world's three highest-ranked players

Japan's Naomi Osaka may not have had ideal preparations for Dubai, but she has the game to win the title. Kim Kyung-hoon / Reuters
Japan's Naomi Osaka may not have had ideal preparations for Dubai, but she has the game to win the title. Kim Kyung-hoon / Reuters

The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships has a reputation for boasting world class lineups, but even by the tournament's high standards, the 2019 field may be the most competitive yet.

Nine of the top 10 will be competing at the Premier 5 event, including the world's top three players. In fact, 15 of the top 20 will be in action in Dubai.

Given the fierce competition in Dubai, The National attempt to predict the winners, strugglers and surprises of the 2019 tournament.

CHAMPION

Jon Turner - Assistant Sports Editor: Petra Kvitova. The 28-year-old Czech has been one of the form players so far this season, following up her Sydney International title with a march to the Australian Open final. She suffered a blip last time out in St Petersburg, but enters Dubai fresh having opted to skip the Qatar Open. The 2013 champion, Kvitova knows how to win in Dubai and is familiar with the conditions here as she often uses the Emirates as her off-season training base. Title No 2 of the season beckons for the world No 2.

Graham Caygill - Sports Editor: Naomi Osaka. The world No 1 has not played since winning the Australian Open and is reported to have a back injury she is handling as well. Add in the fact she has split with coach Sascha Bajin and there is a lot of reason for concern on paper. But she is top of the rankings for a reason. She showed in Melbourne that her mental strength is growing and if she plays anywhere near her best in Dubai then she will be a hard to stop. The conditions should suit her. She got to the quarter-finals last year and with a bit more experience this time she should go all the way.Chitrabhanu Kadalayil - Assistant Sports Editor: Naomi Osaka. Granted, her preparations for Dubai have not been ideal: she has had back problems, and she recently parted ways with her coach. But not many predicted she would lift the Australian Open either, perhaps because winning two grand slam titles in a row is hard enough, let alone for a 21-year-old player not entirely comfortable with the attention she has been receiving of late. Form may be temporary but class is permanent, as the saying goes, and Osaka has proved she has the class. Opponents are still figuring out how to beat her. Until that happens, she will always be a title favourite wherever she plays.

SURPRISE PACKAGE

Garbine Muguruza is a former world No 1 and two-time grand slam winner. Reuters
Garbine Muguruza is a former world No 1 and two-time grand slam winner. Reuters

JT: Garbine Muguruza. A couple of seasons ago, it would have been laughable to include Muguruza in among the "surprise packages" for a tournament. But the former world No 1 and two-time grand slam champion has struggled the past 18 months and has slipped to No 15 in the rankings. Additionally, the 25-year-old Spaniard has never really shown any form in Dubai. However, Muguruza remains a supreme talent capable of beating anyone, and she may well surprise with a deep run.

Cb: Jelena Ostapenko. This will come as a genuine surprise given that she has achieved very little since winning the French Open in 2017. But there is no doubt she is a very talented player who hits the ball harder than most on the WTA Tour. She is at a point in her career where she must choose whether to play the way she always has or be more tactical in order to win more matches. Her recent performance at the Fed Cup for Latvia inspires some confidence, and if she can keep up the momentum, she could do deep in the draw.

GC: Camila Giorgi. The Italian can be frustratingly inconsistent and has often let strong positions in matches slip. But the world No 28 can cause the best players real trouble when she is on form. She had Serena Williams on the ropes at Wimbledon for a while at the quarter-finals stage last year, and she gave Karolina Pliskova a scare at the Australian Open in January. With a good draw, and more belief in herself, the 27 year old can go far in Dubai.

DISAPPOINTMENT

Elina Svitolina returns to Dubai as the two-time defending champion. Getty Images
Elina Svitolina returns to Dubai as the two-time defending champion. Getty Images

JT: Naomi Osaka. It's been a phenomenal start to the year for tennis' newest superstar after securing back-to-back grand slam titles and a surge to world No 1. However, since her success at the Australian Open, Osaka has struggled with a back injury and split with coach Sascha Bajin. The 21-year-old from Japan may well shrug off such setbacks, but considering the high-quality field in Dubai, an early exit could be on the cards.

Cb: Elina Svitolina. The Ukrainian has proved she can win the Dubai title, having done it two years in a row. But a troubling aspect of her game is an inability to win a major trophy because she has often been blown away by one of the top players. While Dubai may not be a grand slam tournament, there is plenty of quality in the draw and she will be up against one of the big hitters at some point. And she will very likely lose then.

GC: Caroline Wozniacki. The Dane knows how to win in Dubai, having won the title in 2011. But her form since winning her first major in Australia in 2018 has been mediocre. She failed to defend her Melbourne title in January, though she played well in patches in losing to Maria Sharapova at the third-round stage. Given the strength of the field in Dubai it will a surprise if she makes it to the semi-finals, which as a past champion will be a disappointment to her.

Updated: February 13, 2019 03:56 PM

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