Two-time champion Elina Svitolina starts her campaign for a third Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship title against qualifier Jennifer Brady on Tuesday.
Svitolina vs Brady is live from Dubai on Tuesday 18 February at 2pm local/10am GMT
Svitolina was originally scheduled to have to face Australian Open finalist Garbine Muguruza, but the withdrawal of Kiki Bertens from the tournament after winning the St Petersburg Ladies Trophy shuffled the draw around. Muguruza ended up facing Kim Clijsters in the first round instead of Bertens doing so, and Svitolina will take on Jennifer Brady.
Facing a qualifier definitely sounds easier than taking on two-time Grand Slam champion Muguruza. But the qualifying draw at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships was so stacked that any player who came through it has to be on impressive form – and Brady is showing signs of being very dangerous in 2020.
Svitolina is never an easy out in Dubai, however. One of three former champions in the draw, along with Simona Halep and defending champion Belinda Bencic, Svitolina won back-to-back titles in Dubai in 2017-18 and was on a 12-match winning streak at the event before she was stopped by Bencic in the semifinals last year; her overall record at the tournament is 16-3.
The world no. 6 must be hoping that a return to the scene of many successes will spark her 2020 season into life a bit, because so far it hasn’t gone too well. Svitolina is 6-4 so far in 2020, and if three of those defeats have come at the hands of in-form and dangerous players – Danielle Collins ousted her 1-6, 1-6 in Brisbane, Muguruza won 1 and 2 in the third round of the Australian Open and world no. 22 Anett Kontaveit edged their Fed Cup duel in three sets – the fourth was to world no. 84 Nao Hibino 4-6, 2-6 in the quarterfinals of the Thailand Open last week. If Svitolina was just showing up in Hua Hin for her appearance fee, fair enough, but for a top-10 player to be thumped in straight sets by three players, all ranked lower than her, in her first four events of the season isn’t necessarily a great look.
Brady, in contrast, has a fair amount of positive momentum to build on. The American, who improved both serve and fitness during the off-season when she changed up her usual routine from training in Florida to training in Germany, had her breakthrough in 2016 when she made the last 16 at the Australian and US Opens, but dropped out of the top 100 in early 2019.
Brady worked her way back up the rankings in 2019 and, significantly, it was a good run in Dubai, where she came through qualifying and beat Jelena Ostapenko and Caroline Garcia, which propelled her back into the top 100. Starting 2020 at world no. 53, Brady qualified for the Brisbane International, where she beat Maria Sharapova and world no. 1 Ashleigh Barty to reach the quarterfinals before losing to Petra Kvitova.
Brady would go on to lose to Simona Halep in the first round of the Australian Open and to Svetlana Kuznetsova in St Petersburg, which didn’t bode so well, but she has been back on good form in Dubai, beating Kristyna Pliskova, Gabriela Dabrowski and sixth seed Su-Wei Hsieh in qualifying to reach the main draw.
This will be the second meeting between Svitolina and Brady, after the Ukrainian won 6-2, 6-4 in Montreal in 2016 when the pair were ranked world no. 20 and world no. 150 respectively. Brady has only beaten a top-10 player once in ten attempts – Barty in Brisbane – and her big power game has the potential to blast Svitolina, who in the final analysis is still underpowered, off the court, but only if she is on exceptional form; she has also already got three wins under her belt in Dubai, while Svitolina’s on a bit of a run of losing to players ranked lower than her. Svitolina does have a tendency to perform her best when an upset is predicted against her, but still, it feels valid to think the upset is on in Dubai on Tuesday.