?? Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, R1 Preview
?? (7) Aryna Sabalenka vs. ?? Maria Sakkari
Aryna Sabalenka and Maria Sakkari will renew hostilities when they go head-to-head at the opening round stage at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday. Sabalenka has made a modest start to the season whilst Sakkari is building in confidence after a couple of successful tournaments. Except a very competitive contest here with the head-to-head record between the pair split at 1-1.
Sabalenka will be back in action for the first time since a disappointing opening round exit at the Australian Open. Sabalenka was in good shape heading into Melbourne after reaching the semi-finals in Adelaide. However, things quickly unravelled in Melbourne where the Belarusian was beaten by Carla Suarez Navarro in a couple of tight sets. It will be interesting to see what type of level Sabalenka can bring in her Dubai opener given she hasn’t played in almost a month.
Maria Sakkari arrives in Dubai in good form. Sakkari arrives fresh from a semi-final showing in St. Petersburg where she upset the top seeded Belinda Bencic in the quarter-finals before succumbing to Elena Rybakina in 3 sets. Prior to St. Petersburg, Sakkari reached the fourth round in Melbourne, her best run at a major.
Sabalenka and Sakkari have split their two previous meetings with a win apiece, both in 2019. It was Sakkari who emerged victorious in their first contest, a 6-7 6-4 6-4 victory in Cincinnati. Most recently, Sabalenka claimed a 6-3 6-4 win in Zhuhai.
I’m going to side with Sakkari here. It is Sakkari is match-hardened heading into this contest having just reached the semi-finals in St. Petersburg. Conversely, Sabalenka hasn’t played a singles match for a month, that has to give the edge to the Green number 1. Furthermore, I think this is a troublesome match-up for Sabalenka, especially when she isn’t at her best, which is likely to be the case here. Sakkari will apply relentless pressure to Sabalenka, forcing the Belarusian into extended rallies where Sabalenka is likely to buckle under the pressure.