Sabalenka returns in Dubai, looking for consistency after service yips in Australia
The Belarussian is the top seed in Dubai but has hit 95 double faults in just six matches so far this season
World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka returns to action this week at the Dubai Duty Free Championships, her first outing since the Australian Open, where she was beaten in the fourth round by Kaia Kanepi after a bout of service yips that has many people worried for her future.
The Belarussian has served 95 double faults in six matches so far this year, including 56 in four battles at the Australian Open. Considering the problems, Sabalenka did well to even make it to the last 16 and after her third-round win, she joked: “only 10 double faults”.
But the yips are a serious business and all eyes will be on Sabalenka as she looks to recover her poise on court. In her pre-tournament media, she gave a hint of what’s going on in her mind.
“It was tough to take,” she said, quoted by Gulfnews.com. “My game is not in a good place but we are in a new tournament and a new environment and we are ready to go again. I am not sure what is wrong with my game. We have had to reset and I am sure we will sort it out on the court.”
Seven of top 10 women involved
She’ll need to hit the ground running though, with seven of the world’s top 10 involved. Only world No 1 Ash Barty, No 4 Karolina Pliskova and No 7 Maria Sakkari are missing from the field.
Top seed Sabalenka faces a qualifier in round one but things will get tough soon after, with Petra Kvitova or Camila Giorgi awaiting in round two and perhaps Iga Swiatek in the third round.
The withdrawal of Sakkari, who was in the final in St Petersburg, will have been a relief to Garbine Muguruza, the defending champion. The Spaniard had been Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins in round one but with Collins moving to replace Sakkari, she now takes on a qualifier or lucky loser.
Coco Gauff plays Jessica Pegula in an all-American battle while Swiatek takes on a rejuvenated Daria Kasatkina and Sofia Kenin meets Jelena Ostapenko.