Kerber slumps as Pliskova rises: WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships talking points

With the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships starting on Monday, Ahmed Rizvi provides his talking points ahead of the tournament.

Angelique Kerber has so far struggled to replicate her 2016 form this season. Jewel Samad / AFP
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With the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships starting on Monday, Ahmed Rizvi provides his talking points ahead of the tournament.

Kerber’s stuttering start

On a high following a strong 2016, Angelique Kerber has found life tough in the new season. Starting the year as No 1 with a 2,030 point lead over Serena Williams, she is back at No 2 after failing to defend her Australian Open title.

Kerber lost in the fourth round in Melbourne and that has been the best performance of the year for her. She won a solitary match in Brisbane, and fell at the first hurdle in both Sydney and Doha, knocked out by Russian teenager Daria Kasatkina on both occasions.

A late withdrawal from Dubai last year, Kerber will be looking forward to the trip this time, hoping she can turn it around at the year’s opening Premier 5 tournament.

More importantly, she will be hoping she can avoid being drawn with Kasatkina in the opening rounds.


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Muguruza’s post-Paris blues

Hailed as the new queen of women’s tennis following her fearless approach in the straight-sets win over Serena Williams in the French Open final, Garbine Muguruza has struggled to stay at those lofty heights since. Climbing to No 2 following her Paris triumph, the Spaniard has now slipped to No 7 following a modest second half of the season in 2016, losing 11 of her 24 matches in the post-French Open period.

She did make a reasonably good start to 2017, reaching the semis in Brisbane and the last-eight at the Australian Open, but was bounced out of the Qatar Open by Chinese world No 31 Shuai Zhang in the second round.

Will that early loss act as a spur for her Dubai campaign? She will hope so.

Pliskova’s soaring stock

While Muguruza has struggled over the last eight and a half months, Karolina Pliskova’s star has been on the ascent during that period.

The Czech was ranked No 18 in the first week of August, but her triumph in Cincinnati saw her career graph make a steep turn upwards and it has been climbing ever since.

Pliskova reached the final of the US Open next, opened her season with the title in Brisbane and reached the last-eight at the Australian Open.

She was expected to go further in Melbourne, even all the way, but the surprise loss to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the quarter-finals has not slowed her down.

Coming to Dubai after a good week in Doha, she will start as the favourite here.

Kasatkina as rising star

One of the rising stars of women’s tennis, Daria Kasatkina has already beaten Angelique Kerber twice this season.

Last year, she had wins against the likes of Venus Williams, Dominika Cibulkova, Roberta Vinci and Karolina Pliskova. So while she does have the game to take on the best, the Russian teenager is still lacking a bit in the consistency department.

But as Serena Williams said last year, after their third round clash at the Australian Open, “She has such a bright future. She’s so young, she’s on the right track”.

She certainly is, but can she step it up now and start going deeper into tournaments? Dubai should provide some indications.

Wozniacki’s long climb back

The top ranked player in the world when she triumphed here in 2011, Caroline Wozniacki’s stock has been in free fall in recent times, but the worst, however, seems to be behind her.

The Dane’s ranking had plummeted to No 74 last August, before she hit the reset button with a semi-final appearance at the US Open; she had made first round exits in her other two grand slam appearances in 2016.

Wozniacki has yet to hit the high notes in 2017, but the week in Dubai could change that.

She has reached the last four on each of her four visits here since the 2011 triumph and could get luckier a fifth time, and go even further.

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