Elena Rybakina hopes her affinity with UAE can spur her to Abu Dhabi Open success

Khazakh world No 5 gets her campaign under way on Wednesday at Mubadala tournament in capital

World No 5 Elena Rybakina has been a frequent visitor to tournaments in the UAE. Getty Images
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Elena Rybakina hopes her strong affinity with the UAE will translate into success when she gets her Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open campaign under way.

Rybakina is a frequent visitor to the UAE. She played in this tournament’s inaugural edition last year and in the one-off Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open in 2021 – an event created to help the schedule during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Kazakh world No 5 has also played in three of the last four Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, reaching the final on debut in 2020 when she lost in one of the greatest women’s matches in the tournament’s history.

Rybakina also conducts her pre-season training camps in the UAE so is more familiar than most with the courts and conditions.

“I really like the UAE and playing here,” Rybakina, 24, told The National on Monday. “I spend a lot of time in pre-season here, I’ve already done four years in a row.

“Even now after Melbourne I stayed in Dubai and I come to Abu Dhabi often. I really enjoy it – I really like the people here, the food, the weather, so I’m enjoying my time here.”

Rybakina is the top seed at the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open this week and is one of four players to receive a bye into the second round, where she could face four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka.

The Japanese former world No 1, in the early stages of her comeback, accepted a wild card for the tournament and is in first-round action against American Danielle Collins on Tuesday.

Collins, a former world No 7 and Australian Open finalist, would also represent a tough opening match for Rybakina, but the prospect of two of the WTA Tour’s biggest stars battling in Abu Dhabi is a tantalising one.

“[Osaka] is a great player, she’s just coming back now and still won’t be at her best but no matter what she’s a very dangerous and experienced player,” Rybakina said. “It’s not going to be easy, for sure, and it would be a very tough battle so we will see. Hopefully, it will go my way.”

Abu Dhabi Open - in pictures

Rybakina arrived in Abu Dhabi following a mixed first few weeks to the season. The former Wimbledon champion began in supreme style, marching to the Brisbane International title – and crushing world No 2 Aryna Sabalenka in the final – only to suffer second-round defeats in Adelaide and at the Australian Open.

Yet, she insists none of the experiences so far this season, the good and the not-so-good, play any real part in her approach to Abu Dhabi.

“I started [the season] well, which I didn’t expect because I had quite a short preparation and I was sick right before the tournament,” she said. “Then in Melbourne it was a tough first round and I had some issues after that match, which was a bit unlucky but that’s tennis. The season has only just started and there is still the whole year, so we will see how it goes.”

Updated: February 06, 2024, 4:13 AM