Damien Kayat previews the Dubai Duty-Free Tennis Championship with respective matchups between Maria Sakkari and Aryna Sabalenka as well as Simona Halep vs Ons Jabeur.
WTA Tour 2020 | Dubai Duty-Free Tennis Championships. Dubai, UAE
Selected Round of 16 & 32 Matches – 18, 19 February 2020
Maria Sakkari (27/20)
vs Aryna Sabalenka (11/20)
Aryna Sabalenka enjoyed a fairly amazing 2019, persistently ranking inside the top 10 in both singles and doubles throughout the year. The 21-year-old Belarusian actually broke through in 2017 with a heroic run to the FedCup Final. But last season saw the big-serving, hard-hitting player really take it to a new level. She won hugely impressive hardcourt titles at the Wuhan Open and WTA Elite Trophy. But on top of that she won three massive doubles titles alongside Elise Mertens. She won the ‘Sunshine Double’ before capturing her maiden Grand Slam title at Flushing Meadows. Sabalenka crashed out in the opening round in Melbourne, following on from a semi-final run at Adelaide. That really sums up Sabalenka, who tends to operate in that wonderful grey area between brilliance and over-exuberance.
Maria Sakkari is actually a player in excellent form, reaching a career-high singles ranking of 21 this February. Sakkari has made relatively slow progress over the last few years. She broke through with a semi-final at the 2016 Wuhan Open. But last season saw her claim her maiden WTA title at Rabat, where she overcame Johanna Konta in the final. She also picked up five wins over top 10 players in 2019. She has reached the third round of every slam, highlighting a growing consistency over the years. She is coming off her best Grand Slam performance ever with a creditable fourth-round run at the Aussie Open. She followed that up with a semi-final showing at the St Petersburg Open.
This will be the third meeting between these two, with both aiming to take a 2-1 head-to-head lead this week: Sabalenka won their last encounter. I’m tempted to go for Sakkari here due to the price and her recent form. But I generally think that Sabalenka will have too much power on these fast hardcourts.
Simona Halep (2/7)
vs Ons Jabeur (11/4)
Simona Halep has emerged from her usual post-Grand Slam disappointment funk for this WTA Premier event. She actually may have the chance to exact revenge against Muguruza in this event. She said that it took her some time to move beyond the Garbine Muguruza semi-final defeat at Melbourne. Halep returns to an event where she has tasted victory before: she won the title in 2015. One thing that I found interesting in Halep’s 2019 campaign was her surprising dip in regular-season tour events. She reached the quarterfinals here last year in what was a typically underwhelming result for Halep. She seems to be investing herself wholly into her Grand Slam pursuits. I think that the current Wimbledon Champion would do well to divorce herself from such a fanatical overemphasis on Grand Slam tennis. As a two-time Grand Slam Champion, she doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody.
Ons Jabeur will clearly enter this match as the underdog, but underestimate her at your peril. The 25-year-old Tunisian has actually been in excellent form in the last month, reaching a career-high singles ranking. She became the first woman of Arab descent to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal in Melbourne, ultimately losing to eventual champion Sofia Kenin. In the process, she helped to end the career of Caroline Wozniacki. She beat Alison Riske in her opening match here, who herself had an excellent Aussie Open showing. Jabeur is a sneaky player, employing a wide variety of slices and drop-shots. If used correctly, her style of play could be quite tricky for arch-baseliner Halep to deal with.
This will be their second-ever meeting, with Halep winning their only ever match in Beijing. I think that Halep could have her hands full with an ebullient Jabeur. Perhaps the best option here is to go with a three-set Halep victory at 3/1.
Written by Damien Kayat for Hollywoodbets.