There are two WTA tournaments next week in Dubai and Rio… Moo’s Tennis Blog will be focussing on the Dubai Duty Free Championships where four of the world’s top ten are in attendance. Dubai has been hit with a string of withdrawals; the tournament announced pre-draw that Australian Open finalists, Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber, have both pulled out, joining the likes of Agnieszka Radwanska, Lucie Safarova (coming back soon!), Timea Bacsinszky and Alizé Cornet. It’s still a decent draw though and it’s a case of what could have been if all these players had turned up. I always enjoy Dubai and it should still be a good week; it’s normally a pretty quick court and the tournament is always well covered. Let’s take a look at the draw…
Dubai Seeds 1-4
Simona Halep (1): The defending champion made a late decision to play Dubai this year, requesting a wildcard. Halep was due to miss Fed Cup, Dubai and Doha to have an operation to fix a problem with her nose. She appeared to change her mind, instead lining up for Fed Cup where she went 1-1 in singles action, losing her first ever match to Karolina Pliskova, but maintaining her unbeaten record against Petra Kvitova with a hard fought three set win. It sounded like this was an operation that was needed so it seems a strange decision to delay it; perhaps the prospect of losing a big chunk of ranking points (Halep played great through Dubai-Indian Wells-Miami last year) was the reason for the change in schedule. Anyway, Halep lines up as the number one seed and faces a brutal opener against the winner of stand-out first round match between Ana Ivanovic and Daria Gavrilova.
Garbiñe Muguruza (2): After a disappointing third round exit at the Australian Open, Muguruza will be looking to kick-start her 2016 season in Dubai. A foot injury forced her out of Brisbane and didn’t seemed to help her plight in Melbourne where she laboured to a straight sets loss against Barbora Strycova. Since then, Muguruza helped her country to a win in Fed Cup, beating both Jelena Jankovic and Ivana Jorovic in straight sets. The Spaniard’s first match in Dubai will be against Elina Svitolina or a qualifier.
Carla Suárez Navarro (3): Another Spaniard has profited from all the withdrawals to claim the number three seed and a bye. It was at this stage of the season in 2015 where Suárez Navarro was so tough to beat. The year ended in pretty lame fashion, but Suárez Navarro has come back refreshed and rejuvenated in 2016. She opened the year with a semi-final appearance in Brisbane and a quarter-final showing at the Australian Open; the latter was a huge result having struggled at the Slams in 2015. Suárez Navarro plays the winner of a first round match between Anna Karolina Schmiedlova or Caroline Garcia in what will be a first career match-up either way.
Petra Kvitova (4): Oh Petra… it’s been a tough start to the year with a stomach virus pretty much derailing January and the news that she has ended her coaching partnership with David Kotyza. Where she normally thrives in Fed Cup. Kvitova lost both of her singles matches against Monica Niculescu and Simona Halep. Everyone seems to be writing her off but beware of the Petra! It was at these tough junctures in 2015 where she rebounded out of NOWHERE with title wins in Madrid and New Haven. Kvitova’s first match of the week will be against Ekaterina Makarova or Madison Brengle. Petra’s one of the toughest players to figure out in this draw and i’m still contemplating whether I think she can do much in this draw.
Dubai Seeds 5-8
Belinda Bencic (5): The finalist in St. Petersburg, Bencic has already racked up 12 wins in 2016; what has been most impressive is that in most of those victories, she has really had to tough out the wins, not playing at her best. Bencic was struggling with a cold in St. Petersburg so it’s a question mark as to how much she will have in the tank for Dubai. Last year she transitioned effortlessly between Toronto and Cincinnati after winning in Canada. Her draw is certainly testing with Jelena Jankovic up first (2-1 head-to-head record) followed by either Andrea Petkovic or Camila Giorgi in the second round.
Karolina Pliskova (6): Fed Cup hero once more, Pliskova led her team to three victories last weekend; she secured a first win over Simona Halep and then went the distance once more, eventually overcoming Monica Niculescu. Pliskova then teamed up with Barbora Strycova to win the decisive doubles rubber. My views on Pliskova keep changing like the weather… I originally had high hopes for her in 2016, but another disappointing loss at a Slam (to Makarova in the third round) and continued over-scheduling has made my expectations simmer somewhat. It was a pleasant surprise to see Pliskova not play last week! Pliskova plays CoCo Vandeweghe in the first round of Dubai; the American player won their last match at Wimbledon but CoCo is still seeking her first singles win of 2016.
Roberta Vinci (7): Another player who competed in St. Petersburg, Vinci will be heading over from Russia where she won her first Premier title with victories of Ivanovic and Bencic in the semi-finals and final respectively. Vinci is currently racking up ranking points and taking advantage of her boosted position in draws following a great summer last year which culminated in her reaching the final of the US Open. First up in Dubai is a qualifier for Vinci but more exciting is she could play former doubles partner, Sara Errani in the second round. This could be another surface that suits her game…
Svetlana Kuznetsova (8): It’s been a typically Sveta start to the year with a jamboree of differing results; this has included a second round showing in Auckland, a title in Sydney, second round again at the Australian Open and two losses in Fed Cup action. Kuznetsova played some truly sensational tennis across Sydney and Australian Open where she defeated Monica Puig and Daniela Hantuchova for a combined 48 winners and just 8 unforced errors. Kuznetsova’s first match of the week will be against former finalist and wildcard, Julia Goerges. Kuznetsova leads the head-to-head, 4-1, but Goerges won their only match in Dubai in 2012.
Unseeded players to watch out for…
Camila Giorgi: The Italian player opens against Andrea Petkovic which is, in my opinion, a 50-50 clash. The winner of that match plays Bencic or Jankovic. It’s always difficult to predict with Giorgi’s hit or miss game, but I think she could do something on this surface and with this draw.
Caroline Garcia: The conundrum that is Caroline Garcia… While she did get owned by Barbora Strycova in the first round of the Australian Open, there have been more good moments than bad in 2016! The Frenchwoman once again delivered the goods in Fed Cup last weekend. Her first match in Dubai against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova looks very winnable based on recent form, which could set her up to play Carla Suárez Navarro. That will most likely be another one of those matches where optimism is quickly dashed but if she’s playing well, there’s a chance at least!
Dubai tweets and videos
I actually considered Petra for the title in Dubai… It’s possible I may need my temperature checking. In the end, despite her abilities to catch fire out of nowhere, I felt it was too much of a risk. An in-form Vinci in her quarter could be a real challenge, let alone Makarova or Brengle in the second round.
The two players I liked pre-draw were Pliskova and Muguruza so i’m bummed they meet in the quarters. In that case, i’ve gone for Pliskova, who had a great week in Fed Cup, is reasonably rested and obviously likes this surface having reached the final last year. I’m intrigued to see whether Muguruza is troubled at all with her foot injury. I still don’t have much confidence in Halep following all her health woes and the achilles injury too. For that reason, i’ve picked CSN as my other finalist who looks to be the most reliable player in the top half.