Fan favorite Ons Jabeur withdraws from Dubai Tennis Championships with knee injury News

DUBAI: Fresh from claiming a historic third successive title at last week’s WTA Tour event in Doha, world No. 1 Iga Swiatek is optimistic she can carry her dominant form into this week’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

A beaten finalist in Dubai 12 months ago, the Pole recovered from a chastening straight sets defeat to Barbora Krejcikova by ending the season with a tour-leading six titles. One year on, she returns to the emirate as the No. 1 seed at this week’s WTA 1000 event which runs until Feb. 24 at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium.

The all-conquering WTA Player of Year in 2022 and 2023 will open her quest for a maiden Dubai title against world No. 39 Sloane Stephens — the 2017 US Open champion — on Tuesday, after the American edged out plucky French qualifier Clara Burel 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 on Sunday evening.

Unsurprisingly, Swiatek’s objective is victory.

“If you want to win a tournament, you have to win against the best in the world anyway,” said the 22-year-old, who has amassed 18 career titles, including a hat-trick of French Open triumphs, and a solitary US Open win in 2022.

“You have to be ready,” she added. “There’s been no preparation because I literally just arrived, but I have the experience from last year, playing one practice, then going to the match. I’m not worried about that. It’s a different year, I feel differently. A lot has happened since (last year). It’s a different tournament.”

Swiatek’s challengers include two-time Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, who reached the semifinals in all four Grand Slams last year.

“I’m happy to see the top players constantly at the top and winning titles. I think that’s something women’s tennis was missing,” said Sabalenka, whose views on the WTA’s increasingly competitive playing field are supported by statistics from the 2023 season, which show the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds met in only four tournament finals.

However, the top two seeds have met in four WTA event finals already this year. The last time the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds met in tournament finals more than four times in a season was in 2013. If the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships draw goes to plan, a 10th career showdown between Swiatek and Sabalenka in this year’s final would end that decade-long statistic, a mere two months into 2024.

“You’re at the top and you’re competing with the top players now,” added Sabalenka. “It’s not like another top player is going to fall out of the tournament early and give you a better chance. It’s amazing to have for our game.”

The 24th edition of Dubai’s annual WTA event takes place one week before the men’s event at the same venue. The women’s competition will run until Feb. 24, before the 32nd staging of the ATP Tour 500 tournament from Feb. 26 to March 2.

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