Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 June 2019

Naomi Osaka takes Centre stage as Elina Svitolina targets history: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships Day 3 talking points

Top eight seeds, headlined by the world No 1, are all in action at the WTA's Premier 5 event

Elina Svitolina has won the past two Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships titles. Reuters
Elina Svitolina has won the past two Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships titles. Reuters

Osaka in focus

Tuesday will mark the first step into the unknown for Naomi Osaka. Her first match as world No 1, and first since the split from coach Sascha Bajin, is on Centre Court at around 7pm against Kristina Mladenovic.

The pair's only previous meeting was in Dubai 12 months ago, with Osaka cantering through in straight sets, and anything other than that this time around will be a shock.

It will be fascinating to see Osaka in her new status as the leading light of women's tennis and how she handles the extra attention.

This time last year her match with France's Mladenovic was on an outside court. This year it is the main attraction of the evening session - quite a change in surroundings, which highlights just how sharp the Japanese 21-year-old's rise has been.

Svitolina targets history

Elina Svitolina is aiming to become the first woman to win the Dubai title three times in a row.

Sara Errani in 2016 was the last person to defeat the Ukrainian, who then went on to dominate the 2017 and 2018 events.

The world No 6 has dropped just two sets in her past nine matches in Dubai and she clearly relishes the conditions on Centre Court.

Ons Jabeur will be an interesting opponent, though. The Tunisian battled her way through her first round match with Donna Vekic on Monday and, while respectful of the sixth seed, said she has nothing to lose when she steps on court.

Jabeur, the world No 56, will also be well supported by a noisy group of Tunisians, as she was against Vekic, and if she can start well, then Svitolina might have a tougher start to her championship defence then she may have expected.

Bouchard's reality test

Eugenie Bouchard made all the right noises upon arriving in Dubai. She talked about moving back up the rankings, building a good work ethic, and making positive strides.

But the problem Bouchard faces while ranked No 79 is she will have face the world's best players early at tournaments, in this case world No 2 Simona Halep.

Halep trounced Bouchard at the Australian Open in January in a sign of how far their respective careers have changed.

Back in July 2014, when Bouchard beat Halep in the Wimbledon semi-finals, she looked like the future star of the game.

But it is Halep who just spent 48 consecutive weeks - 64 in total - as world No 1 while claiming her first grand slam title at the French Open last year.

Even if Bouchard plays her best tennis she will likely lose to Halep in their second round match encounter, given the current gulf between the pair.

However, if she can trouble the Romanian - perhaps win a set - and provide a challenge, it will provide plenty of encouragement that the former world No 5 can still return to the top echelons of tennis.

Updated: February 19, 2019 09:18 AM

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