Dubai Duty Free Tennis: Ons Jabeur, Naomi Osaka and others to watch in qualifying draw

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Arab star: Ons Jabeur.

A loaded qualifying draw for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships promises to deliver some fierce competition starting Saturday at the Aviation Club.

With eight of the world’s top-10 players all competing in Dubai next week, and the tournament having a Premier-level, not Premier 5, status this year, only 28 players get to make it into the main draw meaning the cut-off ranking for entry is incredibly high.

Dubai and Doha alternate the Premier 5 status each season and this year, the UAE gets the lower tier event – featuring a smaller draw and less ranking points on offer – but the stacked field ensures it’ll be a high-quality affair nonetheless.

Madison Keys, Ashleigh Barty and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni have all pulled out of Dubai (so did wildcard Maria Sharapova), which made way for Ekaterina Makarova, Anett Kontaveit and Elise Mertens to move into the main draw.

The qualifying action taking place over the next three days before main draw matches begin on Monday will see a host of talented players fight for tournament spots. Entry is free and matches begin at 10:30am.

Here are three players to watch in the Dubai qualifying rounds.

ONS JABEUR

The Arab No. 1 made it through qualifying last year then pulled off a surprise, upsetting 14th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the first round before falling to Wang Qiang.

Last May, the Tunisian became the first Arab woman to reach the third round of a Grand Slam in singles when she claimed her first top-10 victory by shocking Dominika Cibulkova at the French Open.

With a deft touch that produces tantalising drop shots and a fun all-round game, the 112th-ranked Jabeur will be showcasing her talents in qualifying on Saturday.

She is searching for a first victory in 2018 and is coming off an opening round loss in Doha. The 23-year-old Jabeur will face Oman’s Fatma Al Nabhani in her Dubai qualifying opener.

NAOMI OSAKA

The Japanese power-hitter is a real treat both on and off the court. Ranked 51 in the world, Osaka reached the Australian Open fourth round last month and is looking to make her second Dubai main draw appearance (lost in round two in 2017). The 20-year-old’s fiery groundstrokes can cause some real damage on the fast Dubai courts. She opens her qualifying campaign against fellow Japanese Nao Hibino.

CARLA SUAREZ NAVARRO

Suarez Navarro is the top seed in the qualifying draw and opens against China’s Zhu Lin. The two-time Dubai quarter-finalist is making her way back up the rankings and has returned to the top-30 after reaching the last-eight at the Australian Open last month. The Spaniard was ranked No. 6 in the world two years ago and owns two WTA titles from 10 finals reached throughout her career. If you’re a fan of the one-handed backhand, then make sure you turn up for Suarez Navarro’s matches.

Full Dubai qualifying draw.

Full Dubai qualifying draw.

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Maria Sharapova and Madison Keys pull out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

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Maria Sharapova‘s long-awaited return to Dubai will no longer happen this month as the Russian ex-world No. 1 announced her withdrawal from the tournament.

Sharapova’s last — and only — appearance at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships was in 2006, and she had accepted a wildcard into next week’s event.

But the five-time Grand Slam champion has pulled out citing injury (reportedly feeling pain in her forearms) and it is yet to be determined who will be taking her wildcard instead.

Sharapova lost her opener in Doha last Monday to Monica Niculescu in three sets and is currently ranked No. 41 in the world. She is 21-10 win-loss since she returned from her doping ban last April.

American world No. 14 Madison Keys, who was meant to make her Dubai debut next week, has also withdrawn due to illness.

Keys, last year’s US Open runner-up, lost her Doha second round to Catherine ‘CiCi’ Bellis 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately both Maria Sharapova and Madison Keys have regretfully had to withdraw from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships due to injury and illness,” said tournament director Salah Tahlak.

“We are sorry that neither Maria nor Madison will be able to play in Dubai, but we still have one of the strongest fields ever assembled for the WTA event. Maria said that she is very sorry she cannot be here and hopes to come back next year. We wish her and Madison a speedy recovery.”

The WTA tournament at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships begins on Monday February 19 and concludes on Saturday February 24, with the ATP event kicking off on Monday February 26.

World No. 2 Simona Halep will headline the field along with defending champion, world No. 3 Elina Svitolina and reigning Wimbledon champion, world No. 4 Garbine Muguruza.

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ATP to probe 'racial prejudice' allegations

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In trouble: Ryan Harrison

The Association of Tennis Professionals on Tuesday says it has launched an internal investigation after a first-round match between two American players at the New York Open boiled over on the court.

The ATP Tour officials say they are reviewing “allegations of racial prejudice” after Ryan Harrison and Donald Young exchanged words in the first set and had to be separated by the chair umpire during a changeover in play on Monday.

“The ATP takes any allegations of racial prejudice extremely seriously,” the organisation said in a statement. “A further review of all video and audio recording from the match will take place as this matter is investigated further.

“No further comment will be made until the completion of the investigation.”

The two continued their exchange later on their social media profiles.

African-American Young, 28, posted on Twitter after the match: “I’m shocked and disappointed, Ryan Harrison, to hear you tell me how you really feel about me as a black Tennis player in the middle of our NY match.”

The 25-year-old Harrison, who won the match 6-3, 7-6 (7/4) shot back on Twitter, “The accusations made by Donald Young tonight following our match are absolutely untrue. I’m extremely disappointed that someone would say this in reaction to a lost Tennis match. Any video/audio will 100 per cent clear me.”

Harrison and Young have met eight times since their first match in 2010, with Harrison holding an 6-2 lead.
In matches on Tuesday, Japan’s Kei Nishikori continued his comeback from right wrist surgery with a 7-5, 6-3 opening match win over American wildcard Noah Rubin.

“He started very well, very aggressive. Serving well,” Nishikori said. “I think he played a little better than me in the first set. Second set I was playing a little better, a little more aggressive.”

The 28-year-old Nishikori has now won six matches in a row and will next face Russian Evgeny Donsov who defeated Dominican Victor Estrella Burgos 7-5, 6-1.

Spaniard Adrian Menendez-Maceiras saved five match points to beat seventh seed Steve Johnson 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9/7).

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