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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 26 March 2019

Petra Kvitova says field 'unbelievable' for Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

World No 2 placed in bottom half of draw and could face No 7 seed Kiki Bertens in quarter-finals

Petra Kvitova at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships official draw on Saturday. Reem Mohammed / The National
Petra Kvitova at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships official draw on Saturday. Reem Mohammed / The National

Such is the strength of field at this week’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, that even former winners and grand slam champions are taking nothing for granted.

Petra Kvitova has won Wimbledon - twice - climbed to world No 2 having begun this season superbly, and tasted success in Dubai, in 2013.

The Czech star, who claimed an impressive five titles last year, takes her place in a field boasting nine of the world’s top 10 women and five former world No 1s in all, in what is the strongest roster in the tournament’s 17-year history.

Currently perched at the rankings’ summit after winning the past two grand slams, Naomi Osaka headlines the pack in Dubai, while recent major winners include Caroline Wozniacki, Garbine Muguruza, Simona Halep and Jelena Ostapenko.

Little wonder, then, that Kvitova isn’t allowing the mind to wander to another run to the final just yet.

“It’s a long way to go so I’m not thinking of that,” said the 28-year-old at the tournament draw on Saturday.

As one of the top eight seeds, Kvitova receives a bye into the second round, and could face former French Open winner Ostapenko, 2018 Dubai runner-up Daria Kasatkina and seventh seed Kiki Bertens in her quarter of the draw.

“Every tournament is difficult, and this [field] is unbelievable,” Kvitova added. “We have so many great players playing here. Of course, it’s always tough to win a tournament and it’ll be the same here.

“I missed last year so I’m happy to be here again. You always have best memories when you win a title somewhere. So it’s great to be back.”

Kvitova’s 2019 could be described as great thus far. She opened the year with a win in Sydney and, at last month’s Australian Open, went on to finish runner-up to Osaka in an epic three-set final.

“Finally I’m getting over it so I can really say it was a good one,” Kvitova joked on Saturday. “It was kind of painful after the final, but overall it was a great start to the year so I’m very happy about that.”

Away from the court, though, times have been immeasurably more trying. Last week, Kvitova gave evidence at the prosecution of Radim Zondra, the construction worker who in December 2016 attacked the player in her apartment while attempting a burglary. The injuries to Kvitova’s left hand – her playing hand – were so severe that it jeopardised her career. Zondra faces 12 years in prison.

“It’s tough to say,” Kvitova said when asked if she is any closer to gaining closure. “I’m not sure any day that I’ll be completely over that. I’m glad this one’s over.”

No doubt, Kvitova will be happy to focus on tennis this week. She sits in the opposite side of the draw to Wozniacki, the 2017 Australian Open champion who typically goes well in Dubai.

Making her eighth appearance, the Dane has captured the title - in 2011 - finished runner-up, and reached the semi-finals four times. When she made the showpiece two years ago, Wozniacki set a new WTA record for most wins in Dubai.

It’s no surprise then that, despite battling flu the past few days, she is glad to return to the event having missed it last year. She takes on 2011 US Open champion Sam Stosur, a wildcard, in the first round.

“I love coming here to Dubai,” said Wozniacki, a long-time Dubai Duty Free ambassador. “I’ve so many great memories here: obviously winning the title, and going far many times here and playing well on these courts. It’s a place that’s always a high priority for me to put on my schedule because I just love it here so much.

“So a lot of confidence. I’ve been playing well here obviously and it’s great to be back. It’s a strong field, a lot of great players, so I’m just going to do my best and see how far that goes.”

Wozniacki didn’t go as deep as she would have liked at the Australian Open, when Maria Sharapova put an end to her title defence in the third round. Nonetheless, the former world No 1 loved her new status as a defending grand slam champion for the first time.

“It was an awesome experience,” Wozniacki said. “It’s something I was very proud of to be back in Australia as the defending champion, it was very special. Roger [Federer’s] and my photos were all over the place, which was really cool.

“Obviously I wanted to play even further but it wasn’t to be, that’s what happens sometimes, in sports, that’s life. I was just really excited to be back as defending champion.”

Updated: February 16, 2019 03:55 PM

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