Dubai | Preview: Top 4 set to battle for Dubai Duty Free honours

The second WTA 1000 of the Middle East swing begins in Dubai on Sunday, where the top 4 are among a strong field competing for the Dubai Duty Free Championships, including Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, Coco Gauff and Elena Rybakina.

"This decision wasn't easy [to pull out], especially given my fond memories and anticipation to compete again. However, my back injury requires further healing time. But I am committed to returning stronger next year. 2023 Dubai Duty Free champion Barbora Krejcikova

Amongst the high-profile absentees, though, are 4-times Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, defending champion Barbora Krejcikova, Angelique Kerber, Jessica Pegula, Madison Keys, Karolina Muchova, Petra Kvitova and Belinda Bencic, the latter two due to pregnancy.

Osaka is still trying to find her feet following her return to the WTA Tour last month after her 15 month maternity break.

The Japanese fell in the 1st-round of the Australian Open and in Abu Dhabi, and lost to Karolina Pliskova in the Qatar Open quarter-finals on Thursday.

“I’m really sorry that I have to withdraw from the Dubai Tennis Championships this season,” Osaka, whose last appearance in the event was 5 years ago, said in a statement on the tournament’s website.

Krejcikova, a former French Open champion, who won her maiden Dubai title last year after defeating Swiatek, the World No 1, in straight sets, withdrew due to a back injury.

“This decision wasn’t easy, especially given my fond memories and anticipation to compete again,” the Czech 28-year-old said. “However, my back injury requires further healing time. But I am committed to returning stronger next year.”

Former World No 1 and multiple Grand Slam champion, Kerber was initially signed up to play with her Protected Ranking of 31, but the German will be replaced by Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

This decision comes after she played in Linz and was beaten easily by Lucia Bronzetti in a disappointing return.

Pegula is suffering from a neck injury and has been out of action after a poor Australian swing, while her fellow American is also injured, as is the Czech former French Open finalist, Muchova.

World No 1 Iga Swiatek will be looking to be adding the Dubai Duty Free to her portfolio next week

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The top 8 seeds in Dubai all receive a bye into the 2nd-round, and, heading the draw is last year’s finalist, Swiatek, who, surprisingly, has not won this tournament.

Swiatek returns to Dubai off another strong performance in Doha, where she advanced to her first tournament final of the season and is set to play Rybakina in Saturday’s final in defence of her title there.

She leads the top half of the draw, along with No 3 seed Gauff, 5th seed Ons Jabeur, and 6th-seeded Zheng Qinwen.

The 22-year old Pole begins her campaign against either Sloane Stephens or a qualifier, and could meet 15th seed Elina Svitolina in the 3rd round, although it remains to be seen whether the Ukrainian has recovered from the back injury that ended her Australian Open hopes, and who faces a tough opening match against her compatriot Anhelina Kalinina.

Jabeur plans to play in this tournament despite question marks regarding her knee, and the Tunisian, who has endured a nightmare return to the Middle East, and is hoping for a good run in Dubai, is guaranteed to open against a qualifier in the 2nd-round, but things could get significantly harder in the 3rd with big-hitting Jelena Ostapenko, a possible opponent.

The Latvian 9th seed, who has already pocketed two titles this year in Adelaide and Abu Dhabi, and was the champion in Dubai 2 years ago, opens against a qualifier, with the winner to face either Paula Badosa or another qualifier.

19-year old Gauff, meanwhile, will face either Elise Mertens or Lesia Tsurenko to get herself off the mark,

World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka has not played since winning the Australian Open in January and returns to the tour in Dubai

© Kelly Defina/Getty Images

Dubai marks the return to competition for World No 2 and reigning Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, who skipped the Qatar Open, and leads the bottom half of the draw, along with No 4 Rybakina, No 7 seed Marketa Vondrousova, and 8th seed Maria Sakkari.

Sabalenka will seek to win her 8th match in a row when she opens up against either Donna Vekic or Wang Xiyu, with the winner playing either Australian Open semi-finalist Dayana Yastremska, Veronika Kudermetova, Sorana Cirstea or Sofia Kenin in the 3rd-round.

Rybakina emerges from another strong week in Doha, overtaking Ostapenko for the most wins on tour this year.

A finalist in Dubai in 2020, the Moscow-born Kazakh could open up against two-time major champion Victoria Azarenka, provided the Belarusian can evade Arantxa Rus in the 1st-round.

Russian teen prodigy Mirra Andreeva also returns to action and will play American Peyton Stearns in the 1st-round, and, if she navigates that test, then Vondrousova awaits.

Meanwhile, Maria Sakkari, who is without a coach after parting ways with Tom Hill earlier this week, faces a potential banana peel in the 2nd-round as the Greek awaits the winner of the match between Katerina Siniakova and in-form American Emma Navarro.

Coco Gauff, the World No 3, will be hoping for a reversal in her Middle East fortunes In Dubai next week

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images



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