Ons Jabeur 'doing my best' to be fit and ready for Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Tunisian star has been nursing a knee injury through the season's Middle East swing

Tunisia's Ons Jabeur in action during her round of 32 match against Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko in Doha. Reuters
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Ons Jabeur has said she is doing everything she can to be physically ready for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, as she continues to manage a lingering knee injury through the Middle East swing.

Seeded No 5 in Dubai this week, Jabeur has a bye in the opening round and has been drawn to face a qualifier in round two.

The three-time grand slam finalist, who is the highest-ranked Arab tennis player in history, was forced to miss the tournaments in Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai last year as she underwent surgery for an enlarged nodule that was obstructing her airways.

This year, the 29-year-old has struggled with a knee issue and arrives to Dubai on the back of a quarter-final exit to Beatriz Haddad Maia in Abu Dhabi and defeat to Lesia Tsurenko in her opening match in Doha.

“I think it’s the worst decision you can take because my heart wants to play and my body is not allowing me so much,” Jabeur told The National on Saturday when asked about the challenge of trying to play at her favourite tournaments while managing an injury.

“I feel like I need to take the right decision and sometimes you have to take decisions where your heart is not agreeing with it. But all I know is that I’m doing my best to be ready for this tournament and be ready to play here and compete in front of amazing fans.”

Jabeur receives incredible support when competing on Arab soil and has fond memories from previous Dubai appearances, even in defeat.

In 2020, she held match point against former world No 1 Simona Halep in a last-16 showdown before falling to the Romanian in a deciding-set tiebreak in front of a sellout crowd at Dubai Duty Free Tennis stadium. Tunisian football chants echoed throughout centre court that day, producing an unforgettable experience for both players.

“I think everybody knows the match against Simona was unbelievable,” said Jabeur. “We got the Tunisian fans, the Arab fans and the Romanian fans. So it was unbelievable. I would never forget that match because it was right before Covid and after that the crowd completely disappeared so I always tried to think about that match when the stadium was empty.”

World No 1 Iga Swiatek, who is contesting the final in Doha later on Saturday, is the top seed in Dubai and will face either former US Open champion Sloane Stephens or a qualifier in her opener.

The Polish four-time major winner could face recent Australian Open runner-up Zheng Qinwen in the quarter-finals, with No 3 seed Coco Gauff looming ahead as a potential semi-final opponent for her.

Two-time Dubai champion Elina Svitolina is seeded No 15 and has been handed an all-Ukrainian first round clash with Anhelina Kalinina. Svitolina has enjoyed an impressive return to tennis from maternity leave last season, reaching the Roland Garros quarter-finals and Wimbledon semi-finals in her first two majors back.

Armed with a more aggressive game and a fresh perspective as a new mom, the former world No 3 has re-entered the top 20 and is eyeing further success in 2024.

“I would say now there are more expectations from me, because people now see that I can play and I can win some titles and I can challenge big players,” said Svitolina on Saturday.

“But for me it’s really important to put the work in every day, in every practice. Just keep focused on the work that I have to do and the priority really is to be healthy. When I’m healthy I can play well, I can go far in the tournaments, so for me that’s the priority right now.”

After years of alternating the prestigious WTA 1000 status with Doha each season, both Middle East events have been awarded permanent 1000 status – starting from 2024 – which means larger draws and higher prize money for the players at both tournaments.

“Of course it’s good to have as many big tournaments as we can. Prize money is getting bigger, so we’re happy with that. Of course it’s tough to play so many tournaments in a year but we try our best,” said world No 27 Donna Vekic.

Vekic opens her Dubai campaign against China’s Wang Xinyu before a potential second round duel with reigning Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka.

Sabalenka headlines the bottom half of the draw which she shares with in-form No 4 seed Elena Rybakina, who has already picked up titles in Brisbane and Abu Dhabi this season, and is contesting the Doha final against Swiatek on Saturday.

The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships begins on Sunday, with the women’s final taking place on Saturday, February 24.

Ons Jabeur v Emma Raducanu - in pictures

Updated: February 17, 2024, 12:53 PM