Simona Halep to defend Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title

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The Romanian beat Karolina Pliskova in last year's final.

Simona Halep will be defending her Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title after all, as the Romanian world No.3 accepted a wild card into the tournament, having decided to postpone her previously-scheduled nasal surgery.

Last year’s runner-up, world No.11, Karolina Pliskova along with world No.9 and 2013 champion Petra Kvitova have also taken wild cards for the Dubai event while fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska and world No.10 Lucie Safarova have withdrawn.

Radwanska, the 2012 champion, has cited a left leg injury for her withdrawal while Safarova, who hasn’t played since last October, is continuing her recovery from a bacterial infection and is currently preparing for her title defence in Doha where she is meant to make her long-awaited return at the Qatar Total Open, that starts on February 21.

Halep, who first delayed her surgery to take part in Romania’s 3-2 loss to the Czechs last weekend, has decided to further postpone the medical procedure and confirmed her participation in Dubai and Doha.

Asked when she’ll be having the nasal surgery, Halep told www.fedcup.com: “I’m not sure. Now I’ve started to play good tennis I don’t want to stop again.

“I had long breaks before, many antibiotics so I have to stay a little bit away from them and then we’ll see – maybe (later) this year I have to do it because it’s better for me.”

Halep suffered a shock opening round defeat at last month’s Australian Open and revealed she has been battling infections that have affected her form, but feels she is rebounding well physically and is ready to compete again.

“I’m more confident now than before. I’m still pretty far away from my best – pretty far emotionally, pretty far mentally – but physically I’m back, I feel like I’m strong again. I just need more confidence in my game, in my shots, then I’ll be back 100 per cent,” said the Romanian former French Open runner-up.

The latest shake-up in the draw means that four of the world’s top-five and six of the top-10 will be competing in Dubai, where the action kicks off on Monday February 15.

China’s Peng Shuai, who missed most of last season with a back injury, has also joined Radwanska and Safarova in missing the Dubai tournament and the trio were replaced by 2013 Wimbledon runner-up Sabine Lisicki, Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu and Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko.

Meanwhile, the draw for the Fed Cup World Group play-offs has revealed some blockbuster match-ups as Romania are set to host Germany, Italy will visit Spain, USA will travel to Australia and Russia will host Belarus on April 16-17.

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Wawrinka and Williams searching for better fortunes in Dubai

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Stan Wawrinka suffered a fourth round defeat to Milos Raonic in Australia.

Two-time grand slam champion Stan Wawrinka is set to make a return to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships for the first time since 2008, the Swiss confirmed.

Following a disappointing fourth round defeat to Milos Raonic in the Australian Open in Melbourne on Monday, Wawrinka revealed his upcoming events which will be Marseille, Dubai, Indian Wells then Miami over the next two months.

The world No4 has only competed in Dubai twice, in 2006 and 2008 and lost in the first round both times, to Roger Federer and Jan Hernych respectively.

He will be looking to rebound from his Australian Open letdown in Dubai, and says his motivation behind coming back to the UAE is simply to spruce up his schedule, which gets monotonous at times.

“I think I like to sometimes to change a little bit. It’s been a long time that I didn’t play in Dubai. New tournament, new routine. It’s been a while that I’m on the tour. I like to change a little bit when I can,” Wawrinka said in Melbourne.

“We play always the same tournaments we have to play. When I have some choice to mix it a little bit, can be good also mentally to just see a different tournament.”

Wawrinka will be joined in the field by Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, who share 11 titles in Dubai between them.

Meanwhile, WTA world No1 Serena Williams is hoping to end her title drought in the Emirates when she returns for a fifth appearance next month.

Williams is a three-time semi-finalist in Dubai but unlike her sister Venus – who has a hat-trick of trophies at the Aviation Club – has never been able to win the tournament.

Despite not being able to stamp her authority on the event so far, Serena is looking forward to coming back to the UAE.

“I like Dubai. It’s a great place to come to,” said the owner of 21 grand slams. “You know, what I like most about it is just the city. I go to a restaurant, and I see a guy and he’s like, I’m from New York. And another guy, they are all staff, and he’s from London. Another guy is from Nigeria. Another guy is from Asia. And it’s an incredible mix of people from absolutely everywhere in the world. It is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Everyone is just treated the same, so it’s just great. I love it.”

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Czech star Tomas Berdych targeting glory at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

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Aiming for the title: Tomas Berdych.

Tomas Berdych is determined to throw off his nearly-man image and finally be crowned winner of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

No other player who has failed to lift the trophy has a better record in Dubai than Berdych, with two finals, two semi-finals and a quarter-final to his name in the last five years.

He has, however, run into insurmountable opposition each time, with three defeats to Novak Djokovic and one each by Roger Federer and Andy Murray ending his challenges.

In 2014, the 30-year-old stretched Federer to three sets in the final, and he did the same against Djokovic in the semi-finals last year before succumbing.

With 12 career singles titles under his belt and another 17 final placings including at Wimbledon in 2010, the Czech clearly has what it takes and now he believes he might have found the key to end his frustration at so often coming off second-best.

“I think it’s always going to start with the fitness,” he said.

“I am a tall, quite heavy guy and when you want to compete with guys like Andy, Novak, Rafa (Nadal) and Roger, you are going to have to be extremely fit and be prepared for that. So fitness is going to be the first thing. I am not saying it’s bad now, but to reach that top level, I need to improve.

“Once you have the physical fitness you can think ‘OK, now I am absolutely fine just to go there and not worry about anything else’. Then you can really focus on strategic plans and on the game.”

Berdych can draw encouragement from the fact that he has already managed to overcome arguably his most difficult Dubai opponents.

He has two wins over Djokovic, including a semi-final victory at Wimbledon, and two of his three wins over Federer came not only in the quarter-finals of the 2012 US Open but in the 2013 semi-final in Dubai. He has also earned five wins over another strong contender for the title, Stan Wawrinka.

Whatever the outcome, Berdych will enjoy his time at what is one of the most popular tournaments on the ATP World Tour and clearly one of his favourites.

“This tournament is so good, because of everything that comes with it,” he said.

“The tournament does extremely well looking after the players, which is always very important. The players feel like home here, it’s very easy and very relaxed.

“It’s one of the big tournaments, one of the ones you want to be a part of and compete in, and the whole package creates it. It’s a place where players like to be and like coming back to.”

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