World No. 2, Simona Halep starts her bid for a second Dubai title on Wednesday when she squares off against Tunisia's Ons Jabeur in the second round.
Halep vs Jabeur is live from Dubai on Wednesday, 19 February from 7:00pm local time/ 3:00pm GMT
Halep was champion in Dubai back in 2015, when she defeated Karolina Pliskova in the final. She didn’t win a match at the venue for the next three years, missing the tournament in 2017 and 2018, but she returned in 2019 to reach the quarter finals, beating Eugenie Bouchard and Lesia Tsurenko before losing to eventual champion, Belinda Bencic.
The Romanian is back in action for the first time since her run to the Australian Open semi-finals, where she was beaten by Garbine Muguruza. Her only other tournament in 2020 was her season opener in Adelaide, where she lost out in the quarter finals to Aryna Sabalenka.
One area Halep will definitely want to beef up this year relative to last season is the titles column. The Romanian claimed just one title in 2019, albeit a big one at Wimbledon! She came close on a couple more occasions, reaching finals in Doha and Madrid, but she was beaten by Elise Mertens and Kiki Bertens respectively, when she was arguably the favourite in both finals. The Romanian has now lost nine of her last 13 tour level finals.
Halep’s result faded towards the end of last year, with the Romanian limping to a 7-7 record after Wimbledon, and failing to win consecutive matches in any of her last five tournaments. She has quickly arrested that slide with her semi-final run at the Australian Open, and will attempt to maintain the momentum in Dubai this week.
She will have to be on her game on Wednesday as she opens against the very dangerous Ons Jabeur.
Jabeur goes into the match in a fine run of form that has seen her win five of her last six matches. The Tunisian reached her maiden Grand Slam quarter final at the Australian Open, beating former top-ten stars, Johanna Konta, Caroline Garcia and Caroline Wozniacki; and Serena Williams’ conqueror, Qiang Wang, before falling short against eventual champion, Sofia Kenin in the last eight.
She’s backed that up with a fine win in her Dubai opener against Alison Riske, taking down the American, 7-6 1-6 6-3.
The Roland Garros girls champion in 2011, Jabeur has always had great talent, but her progress through the years has been hampered by injuries and very poor form. She did not break into the top-100 until 2017, but she has finished with a two-digit ranking in each of the last three seasons, finding the odd great week amidst a series of poor results to keep her ranking on the right side of 100.
Her best results in 2019 were semi-finals in Eastbourne and Tianjin, and a third round run at the US Open, but she did next to nothing outside those three events, failing to win back-to-back matches in any of her other 16 tournaments. Despite all of that, she still managed to maintain a top-100 ranking all through the year, ending the season at No. 76.
Her start to 2020 wasn’t the best, as she won just one main draw match between Shenzhen and Hobart, but she had another surge in Melbourne, producing some of the best tennis of her career to reach the last eight. She’s also up to a career-high ranking of 46th following her Melbourne exploits. Can she now maintain this form for an extended period, and string together a run of good WTA tournaments? She’s got a good start in Dubai, beating the 18th ranked Riske, but it doesn’t get easier as she takes on second seed, Halep in the second round.
Halep retired hurt while trailing 6-1 in their only previous meeting in Beijing in 2018, but the Romanian should be fresh heading into this one as she seeks her first win over Jabeur.
Jabeur generates great power off the ground, and she can mix things up with her excellent hands. When it all comes together, she is a delight to watch, and is capable of troubling the top players. However, her bane has often been her lack of consistency.
Being consistent is an area where Halep thrives, and that could be good enough to get the world No. 2 past Jabeur on Wednesday.