Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open: Osaka on course to face Rybakina in second round

Jabeur in line to face Raducanu if the Briton comes through her first-round match against Bouzkova

Naomi Osaka will compete in the third tournament of her comeback at the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open. AFP
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Naomi Osaka could be set for a tantalising second-round match against top seed Elena Rybakina at the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open after the draw for the tournament was made on Saturday.

Four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka was handed a wildcard for the WTA 500 tournament, which begins at Zayed Sports City on Monday, and will face a qualifier in the opening round. Should the Japanese star come through that, then a showdown with world No 5 Rybakina awaits.

As one of the top four seeds, Kazakhstan’s Rybakina received a bye through to the second round.

Osaka, 26, is in the early stages of her comeback to the WTA Tour having missed the entire 2023 season to have a baby. Her daughter Shai was born last July. Prior to that, the former world No 1 had cut short her 2022 season in September to focus on her mental health.

Osaka, currently ranked 759 but playing under a protected ranking of 46, has competed in two events so far this season; she made the second round of the Brisbane International and lost in the first round of the Australian Open. The Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open will therefore be the third event on her comeback trail.

Rybakina, meanwhile, will be aiming to bounce back in Abu Dhabi after a disappointing showing in Melbourne. The 2023 Australian Open finalist suffered a shock defeat in the second round. A quarter-finalist in Abu Dhabi last year, the 2022 Wimbledon champion will be one of the favourites for the title next week.

A similarly enticing match-up could take place at the opposite end of the draw, with second seed Ons Jabeur potentially facing former US Open champion Emma Raducanu in the second round. The 21-year-old Briton will first need to get past world No 36 Czech Marie Bouzkova, though.

Raducanu is in the process of her own comeback. Before the start of this season she had not played since last April and required surgery on both wrists and an ankle. Those injuries have contributed significantly to Raducanu’s stunted progress since her historic triumph at the US Open in 2021 when she became the first qualifier in the Open era to win a major title.

Confirmed line-up for Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open

Jabeur and Raducanu are yet to meet on the WTA Tour but have played each other at Zayed Sports City when they competed in the 2022 Mubadala World Tennis Championship.

There have been encouraging signs so far, with two wins and two defeats in Auckland and Melbourne, and the experienced Bouzkova – a Wimbledon quarter-finalist in 2022 – will provide a stern test as to the state of her game.

Whoever advances to the second round will face a determined Jabeur keen to get her season up and running after an early exit at the Australian Open. The Tunisian world No 6 was handed a heavy second-round loss by teenager Mirra Andreeva in Melbourne, and will hope her experience of playing in Abu Dhabi and the home support will contribute towards a deep run at the tournament.

Also in the top half of the draw along with Osaka and Rybakina are former French Open champions Barbora Krejcikova and Jelena Ostapenko, seeded fourth and fifth respectively. Krejcikova, handed a first-round bye, will face either Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova or a qualifier in the second round, while Ostapenko opens her tournament in the first round against a qualifier.

Rounding off the top half is an all-Chinese match between Xinyu Wang and Lin Zhu, Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina taking on Spain’s Paula Badosa and last year’s finalist Liudmila Samsonova of Russia against Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko.

In the bottom half, Russian seventh seed Daria Kasatkina will face a qualifier, France’s Caroline Garcia plays Romanian Sorana Cirstea – with the winner advancing to face Greek third seed Maria Sakkari – and top-ranked Filipino Alexandra Eala will take on Poland’s Magda Linette. Brazil’s sixth seed Beatriz Haddad Maia will play China’s Xiyu Wang.

Updated: February 03, 2024, 2:06 PM