Ons Jabeur optimistic of more Tunisian support for Elina Svitolina clash at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Highest-ranked Arab female in history cheered on by small-yet-vociferous group in first-round clash with Croatia’s Donna Vekic

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 18: Ons Jabeur of Tunisia plays a shot in her match against Donna Vekic of Croatia during day two of the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships at Dubai Tennis Stadium on February 18, 2019 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
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Tunisian Ons Jabeur is hoping to use her vocal support to get past two-time defending champion Elina Svitolina in Tuesday’s second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

The world No 56, the highest-ranked Arab female in tennis history, was cheered on by a small-yet-vociferous group of Tunisian fans during her opening-round clash with Croatia’s Donna Vekic on Monday, despite the 11am start on Centre Court.

Jabeur came through the match to prevail 6-4, 7-6, and set up an encounter with Svitolina, winner in Dubai the past two years. The pair last met in Tapei in 2017, when the world No 6 clinched a tight three-setter.

Jabeur, though, is optimistic an even greater push from the stands than she received against Vekic could be key in her causing an upset.

“I always say Tunisians are everywhere,” the 24-year-old said. “In Japan one time, I won there, there were some Tunisians. I hope they can come tomorrow.

“A lot of people, they can come tomorrow. Elina, we know each other from juniors, so it's going to be nice to play each other. Last time, in Taipei, was very close for me.

epa07282303 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark in action against Alison van Uytvanck of Belgium during their women's first round match at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, 14 January 2019.  EPA/DAVID CROSLING AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT
Caroline Wozniacki pulled out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday. David Crosling / EPA

“But she improved a lot. I did, too. It's going to be tricky match. She likes to play here, obviously. Let's see how it's going to play; I'm going to give my best. No stress for me, probably more stress for her because she's better ranked.

“But I'm going to have fun on the court. With the crowd... hopefully I can get the win.”

Jabeur came into Dubai on a high having last week reached the semi-finals in the doubles in Doha, alongside American partner Alison Riske.

She did not have much time to bask in Monday’s singles win, however, since she joined forces again with Riske later in the afternoon to ease to a straight-sets victory in the doubles. Yet, rather than the split focus hindering her singles, it is helping.

“I'm starting a new career in doubles, if you guys noticed,” Jabeur joked. "You can see it. Many players play doubles - I can name a lot. Somehow they break into the top 10, top 20.

“Today I did two or three great volley points, and I won the points. I was thinking, ‘playing doubles is good’.

“It was so much fun playing with Alison. She's such a positive person, I love it. The American mentality is amazing. We don't have that in Tunisia, but we will have to improve.

“Hopefully we can do good here. I’m looking forward to it. It's really always thinking about physically, you need some energy to play the doubles. It's worth it to get more results in singles. I think it really helps.”

As one of only two Arab athletes in the field this week, Jabeur was asked if she could have the same effect in the region that Japanese world No 1 Naomi Osaka is having on the Asian game.

“Well, I'm now the Naomi Osaka of Africa,” Jabeur said, laughing. "It's inspiring to see how players can inspire a country or a continent. For me, I'm really happy to represent Tunisia.

"I'm trying to give my best, to behave well on the court, to try to give good example for the young generation who want to achieve what I'm doing right now.

“I'm trying to send a message that it's not impossible. You have to work hard. Why not? I want to see a lot of players from Tunisia to be here one day. It's one of my dreams.”

Elsewhere on Monday, 2011 champion Caroline Wozniacki was forced to withdraw from the tournament before her opening match, citing a viral illness. Meanwhile, 2017 French Open Jelena Ostapenko lost to qualifier Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-0.