As the Race heads to Dubai, Annabel Croft gives advice on who you should pick for WTA Fantasy Tennis.
“Petra Kvitova, champion here at Dubai in 2013, won the title at Sydney last month and came so close to adding yet another Grand Slam to her resume at the Australian Open – almost getting herself up to World No.1 as well. She’s not played here in Dubai since 2016 when she lost in the first round to Brengle, but she’s definitely one of my favorite players to watch and she looks fitter now than I’ve ever seen her. The firepower, the timing, the way she opens up the court and uses the angles – it’s so impressive. We always talk about the lefty serve – which I think is as horrible to return on the deuce court as it is out wide on the ad court – and then the big strike into the open space, but her backhand is doing a lot of damage cross-court as well.”
“Obviously all eyes will be on Naomi Osaka. To back up her US Open win with another Slam in Australia was just an incredible effort – she displayed real strength of character. She shows amazing movement around the ball – I think she’s really light on her feet – and her firepower, energy, timing, rhythm and ability to strike winners from different positions on the court is really, really exciting. So far she has handled the expectations very well; now she has this new pressure of being World No.1, and obviously there’s a lot of discussion about the split with her coach Sascha Bajin, so it will be interesting to see how she handles that. She was a quarterfinalist at Dubai last year when she lost to Svitolina, but so much has changed in her life since then. She’s quirky, she’s fun, she gets the headlines – I’m really looking forward to seeing her in action again here.”
“Elina Svitolina is another player to watch, being the winner the last two years here. Last year she seemed so relaxed about being the defending champion, and she was able to retain the title. The conditions in Dubai are really tricky: the ball always flies around a lot – it’s like playing at altitude. It can be very difficult to control returns of serve, very difficult in fact to control the ball at all! It can take players quite a few matches to really into some kind of groove, but I think the conditions really suit Svitolina. She’s such a wonderful athlete, amazing defender, a great absorber of pace, and she’s adding more aggression to her groundstrokes, particularly off the forehand side. Her first serve has also improved; definitely the second serve has always been the area that players look to attack, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do that too. I’m looking forward to seeing how she handles the situation as she goes for the hat-trick.”
“One player I’m really looking forward to seeing at Dubai is Aryna Sabalenka. Still only 20 years of age, she’s already won three titles on the tour including one this year at Shenzhen. Now up into the Top 10 in the world, she just has immense amounts of power – I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much power on the court! For me she’s one of the most dangerous opponents and probably one of the most feared, just because she takes the racquet out of your hand. If she’s on fire and mentally dialed in, there’s very little her opponents can do to stop her. Huge serve, incredible athlete, aggressive and utterly fearless; I think the fans in Dubai will really like her – she’s the type of player who can bring a crowd to its feet, make them stand up and take notice.”
“As more of an outside pick I’m going to go for Daria Kasatkina, who was a finalist here last year, posting great wins over Johanna Konta and Garbiñe Muguruza before losing to Svitolina. I’m a massive, massive fan of the way she plays her tennis – she’s just a little bit different to a lot of the players on the tour. She has so much variety, she has a lot of style, she knows how to change the pace, she has a beautiful double-handed backhand and a lot of spin on the forehand side. She uses slice, she uses angles, she’s got a nice kick serve. I think we need players on the tour who have her kind of variety – she spins a bit of a web to frustrate her opponents. She hasn’t had a great start to the year, so needs to get going, but I feel that being back here in Dubai will ignite good memories.”