- World No. 6 Karolina Pliskova is the early favorite at the new Abu Dhabi Women’s Tennis Open
- Four of the top 10 and seven of the top 20 players are there, but not the sport’s biggest stars
- Top seed Sofia Kenin is overlooked, as usual. Can she win it all?
The first tournament of a tennis season, this time in new surroundings in Abu Dhabi, is a bit like the wild, wild west.
There are no recent results on which to judge form. The players have had both good and bad off-seasons.
And more than a month away from the Australian Open, some worry about peaking too early.
Abu Dhabi Women’s Tennis Open Singles Odds
| Karolina Pliskova (CZE)||+600|
| Aryna Sabalenka (BLR)||+600|
| Sofia Kenin (USA)||+800|
| Jennifer Brady (USA)||+1000|
| Elise Mertens (BEL)||+1200|
| Elena Rybakina (KAZ)||+1400|
| Elina Svitolina (UKR)||+1400|
| Anett Kontaveit (EST)||+1500|
| Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP)||+1500|
| Maria Sakkari (GRE)||+2000|
| Ons Jabeur (TUN)||+2500|
| Karolina Muchova (CZE)||+2500|
|Cori Gauff (USA)||+3300|
| Marketa Voudrousova (CZE)||+4000|
Odds taken January 4 at DraftKings
Despite Lack of Tournaments, Many Big Names Missing
Normally, for a tournament at this level, getting four of the top 10 would be solid.
But there were only two tournaments in 2020 after the French Open in October. You’d think the players would be eager to get competitive.
It turns out many are willing to wait for Australia; only half the top 30 are on board.
Tennis 🎾 pic.twitter.com/iDEphOOZLD
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) December 31, 2020
New Venue, Same Bubble Restrictions
With the regular Australian summer schedule scuttled by the three-week postponement of the big event, the WTA Tour had to scramble to put on an opening tournament.
They ended up in Abu Dhabi, which is new territory for the women.
But as the pandemic continues to rage across the world, the same tight restrictions continue.
Premier entrainement sous le soleil d'Abu Dhabi ☀️🤘
Le tennis "bulle" est de retour 🎉 pic.twitter.com/50oDG9TNOK
— Alize Cornet (@alizecornet) January 4, 2021
The players will be limited to hotel rooms and tennis courts and tested regularly. And they will be keen to avoid a quarantine that would knock them out of the Australian swing.
Those who adapt best to challenging circumstances still will typically prevail.
There is a full 64-player draw in Abu Dhabi. That means that six victories are required to take it – only one fewer than a Grand Slam. And in one week, not two.
The endurance is probably not going to be there for most of the players. So experience will play a big role in managing energy.
Potential First-Round Abu Dhabi Upsets
- Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (+150) over No. 15 seed Ons Jabeur (-190): The Tunisian is a rare Muslim woman on Tour. In a sense, she’s competing on her home turf. But Pavlyuchenkova has been training hard in nearby Dubai for months and looks really fit. Only seven spots separate them in the rankings.
- Veronika Kudermetova (+132) over No. 10 Anett Kontaveit (-165): Kudermetova is ranked 25 spots lower, but is 2-0 in her career against the Estonian (4-0 if you count doubles).
- Jessica Pegula (+175) over No. 2 Elina Svitolina (-225): The Ukrainian won back-to-back titles in nearby Dubai in 2017 and 2018. The Middle East has been a happy place. But she went out in her opening matches in both Doha and Dubai last February. And Svitolina made a lot of off-season changes; she may not be sharp out of the gate. Unseeded Jessica Pegula is capable of having a world-beating day on a hard court.
Happy to be back 😃✌️ pic.twitter.com/idlkMCQas0
— wta (@WTA) January 4, 2021
Can Sabalenka Pick Up Where She Left Off?
The player who finished the 2020 season in the best form was Aryna Sabalenka.
The world No. 10 from Belarus won the only two tournaments that took place after the French Open, both on hard courts indoors.
And the last time she came through the Middle East last February, she won the (then) Premier 5 tournament in Doha and reached the quarters in Dubai. It’s a great place for her to start in 2021.
Five Most Recent WTA Tournament Title Winners
|Nov. 9-15, 2020||Upper Austria Ladies Linz||Aryna Sabalenka|
|Oct. 19-25, 2020||J&T Banka Ostrava Open||Aryna Sabalenka|
|Sept. 27 – Oct. 10||Roland Garros||Iga Swiatek|
|Sept. 20-26, 2020||Internationaux de Strasbourg||Elina Svitolina|
|Sept. 14-21, 2020||Internazionali BNL d’Italia||Simona Halep|
Sabalenka was the last one to hold up a trophy in 2020.
Kenin, the Forgotten One
Kenin, the world No. 4, reigning Australian Open champion, French Open finalist and the top seed in Abu Dhabi, continues to fly under the radar even if she did win the WTA’s Player of the Year Award.
She’s only the third-favorite on the odds chart.
With six match wins needed – in a week – Sabalenka is likely to wear herself out. She has yet to make a deep grand slam run, so lacks the experience.
Karolina Pliskova, who had only two good tournaments all of 2020, again is the betting favorite but has not delivered in quite a while.
Svitolina has arguably the toughest quarter.
Abu Dhabi Tournament pick: Kenin (+800)
Let's have fun and keep it civil.