Naomi Osaka set for first appearance as world No. 1 - Dubai Duty Free Tennis talking points

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The 19th edition of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships WTA tournament kicks off on Sunday with the strongest field the event has ever witnessed.

Here’s a look at the main talking points following the draw reveal in Garhoud on Saturday.

MARQUEE LINE-UP

Nine of the world’s top-10 will be in action in Dubai over the next seven days, with Sloane Stephens being the only absentee from that ranking bracket.

The field is headlined by world No. 1 Naomi Osaka, and includes five former Dubai champions. Wildcards were handed to ex-Wimbledon runner-up Eugenie Bouchard, 2016 Dubai winner Sara Errani, former US Open champion Sam Stosur, and Oman’s Fatma Al Nabhani, who is the Gulf region’s first female professional player.

ALL EYES ON OSAKA

Osaka will be playing her first event as world No. 1 and her first since her surprise split with her coach Sascha Bajin, who helped guide her to back-to-back Grand Slam triumphs at the US and Australian Opens. The Japanese star is yet to reveal the reasons behind her decision to part ways with Bajin, but will sit with media in Dubai on Sunday, where she will no doubt be quizzed on the subject.

The top spot will not be up for grabs in Dubai, as Osaka has secured her place at the summit through Indian Wells.

KVITOVA’S BACK

Fresh from her runner-up showing at the Australian Open, Petra Kvitova will make her first Dubai appearance since 2016. After the final in Melbourne, the Czech world No. 2 had to testify against the man who attacked her with a knife in her apartment, recounting the traumatic life-threatening experience that left her with nerve damage in all five fingers of her left playing hand.

“I’m not sure any day that I’ll be completely over that. I’m glad that this one’s over,” she said in Dubai on Saturday, referring to her testimony in court.

Kvitova, a winner in Dubai in 2013, played her first Grand Slam final on a surface other than grass, at the Australian Open last month. She won 11 matches in a row Down Under, winning the title in Sydney before reaching the championship decider in Melbourne.

“Finally I’m getting over it [the loss in the final] so I can really say it was a good one. It was kind of painful after the final but overall it was a great start to the year so I’m very happy about that,” said Kvitova, who opens her Dubai campaign against either Petra Martic or Katerina Siniakova in the second round.

SVITOLINA BIDDING FOR HAT-TRICK

Elina Svitolina is the two-time defending champion in Dubai and is looking to become the first woman to win three successive titles in the Emirates. The Ukrainian lost to Simona Halep in the Doha semis on Friday and begins her Dubai journey against either Ons Jabeur or Donna Vekic.

KASATKINA’S ROUGH 2019 START

Last year’s Dubai runner-up Daria Kasatkina had a fantastic week here in 2018, where she saved match points against Johanna Konta and Garbine Muguruza en route to the final. After cracking the top-10 for the first time end of last season, Kasatkina started 2019 with a disappointing 0-4 start before claiming a win in Russia’s Fed Cup tie against Denmark. Will she finally get her first tour-win of the year in Dubai this upcoming week?

FIRST ROUNDS TO WATCH

Garbine Muguruza v Dayana Yastremska

Caroline Wozniacki v Sam Stosur

Ons Jabeur v Donna Vekic

Zhang Shuai v Anett Kontaveit

Anastasija Sevastova v Hsieh Su-Wei

Caroline Garcia v Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

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