Aryna Sabalenka begins her Dubai campaign on Tuesday when she squares off against Greece's Maria Sakkari in the first round.
Sabalenka vs Sakkari is live from Dubai on Tuesday, 18 February from 8:30pm local time/ 4:30pm GMT
Sabalenka is competing on the WTA Tour for the first time since the Australian Open, where she suffered an opening round exit to Spaniard, Carla Suarez Navarro. The Belarusian did play in the Fed Cup after Melbourne, winning two of her three rubbers to help her country get into the April’s Finals.
Sabalenka defeated Arantxa Rus but lost to Kiki Bertens in her singles rubbers, before teaming up fellow Fed Cup stalwart, Aliaksandra Sasnovich to guide Belarus past Netherlands in The Hague.
It’s been a mixed start to the season for Sabalenka. She defeated Simona Halep en route a semi-final in Adelaide (lost to Dayana Yastremska in the last four), but either side of that run, she was beaten by Kristyna Pliskova in the second round in Shenzhen, where she was defending champion, and fell to Suarez Navarro in Melbourne.
Sabalenka will be looking to find some consistency through this season- something that was missing for most of last year. She did open 2019 with a title run in Shenzhen, following on from a spectacular finish to the previous season, but she lost her way after Shenzhen, managing just a couple of semi-finals in her next 15 tournaments. The 21-year-old found some fantastic form towards the end of 2019, winning titles in Wuhan and Zhuhai to turn what would have been an average campaign into a good season.
Now ranked 13th in the world, Sabalenka is competing in Dubai for the second straight year, and will be looking to improve on her round of 16 finish from last season, when she was beaten by Belinda Bencic in a match in which she held six match points.
She opens her 2020 Dubai campaign against Maria Sakkari on Tuesday.
Sakkari arrives Dubai in good form, having made the semi-finals in St. Petersburg last week, beating top seed, Belinda Bencic along the way.
The Greek also reached the fourth round of the Australian Open- her best Grand Slam performance- taking out Margarita Gasparyan, Nao Hibino and Madison Keys before falling in three sets to Petra Kvitova.
Sakkari’s recent results have helped to a current ranking of 21st, a career high, as she continues her steady rise up the WTA ladder. The 24-year-old has finished each of the last four seasons inside the top-100, and was up to a year-end mark of 23rd in 2019, following a campaign that included a maiden tour-level title in Rabat, semi-finals in Rome and San Jose, and notable quarter finals in Cincinnati, Nottingham and Charleston.
She opened her 2020 season with a tight three-set loss to Naomi Osaka in Brisbane, and fell to Donna Vekic in the second round in Adelaide, but she’s put together a decent run of form since then, winning six of her last eight matches.
Making her main draw debut in Dubai this week (she fell in the final qualifying round in her only previous visit in 2018), the Greek takes on Sabalenka in the first round on Tuesday.
Sakkari and Sabalenka have split their two previous matches, both of them coming in 2019. Sakkari scored a 6-7 6-4 6-4 victory in Cincinnati, but Sabalenka responded with a 6-3 6-4 win in Zhuhai just under two months later.
Sabalenka hits the heavier ball, and has the ability to overpower Sakkari, but the Belarusian is also prone to unforced errors. Sakkari will be aggressive when she can be, but she also doesn’t mind a scrap, as she moves and defends well. Sabalenka is the higher ranked player and naturally goes in as the bookies’ favourite, but Sakkari is in good form and will make this very difficult for the world No. 13.