Despite the withdrawal of the world’s No. 1 Serena Williams and heavyweight Australian Angelique Kerber from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships competing players say the tournament will be a tough one
The withdrawal of the world’s No. 1 tennis player Serena Williams and heavyweight Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships isn’t going to make the game any easier to win, say defending champion Simona Halep and Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro.
Romanian Halep, who joined the tournament following a period of illness, says the Dubai competition will be tough, but that her affinity to the place gives her morale a boost.
“This tournament is special for me because I won it last year. I am happy I came back and that I can play and practice. That’s the most important thing for me,” says Halep. “You feel great because you have great memories. I had a great atmosphere last year, great fans, great matches, everything went the right way and it was the best feeling I had last year.”
“I know it’s going to be tough to defend the title, but I am not thinking about that. I just want to do my best to try and come back as much as I can and to be healthy... I’m here to play my best, to play with everyone and I don’t mind if I play with strong players.”
For Navarro, the withdrawal of the best players is a big plus for the remaining competitors, but the year has just started and the Dubai competition remains a challenging one, she says.
“The draw here is really tough. Top players are here. Every single match that you play every week is tough and you have to be focused all the time… The reality is that top players and the rest of the players want to win the title and we all have the same goal. And Dubai is an amazing city and I feel really good.”
On her takeaways from Melbourne, after losing the first set of matches, Navarro says she needs to come back full force.
“I learned that to start really good is really important. When you start good it’s not the most important thing because the most important is how you finish the match, but at this level you have to start well and this is what I took with me from that tournament.”
Navarro says she deals with stress before a match by listening to music or reading to regain her focus. “I have lunch and talk to my team but sometimes you feel nervous and maybe the music can relax you a little bit,” she says.
World No. 3 Halep had surprised many with her sudden u-turn on participating in Dubai after announcing she will take the months of February and March off to undergo surgery for a sinus infection.
Commenting on her general health, the 24-year-old says she feels “perfect” and is hoping to participate in more tournaments. She says she’s delayed the surgery and might do it later this year. “I delayed it because I feel OK now. I got good treatment and I don’t have an infection anymore.”
Halep, who has changed coaches frequently over the past three years, is working with Australian Darren Cahill for this season. Her previous coaches include Wim Fissette, Victor Ionita, and Thomas Hogstedt. She says her aim is to get stronger and that she might be asking “too much from people”.
“Now, I feel I have my best team ever,” she explains. “I feel great with Darren. He understands me and that makes me more confident. We can communicate easily and I can tell him what I feel on court.”
Halep says she wants to improve her tactic on court, “to see the game and change more often during the match”.