DUBAI: On the eve of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, the top four women’s seeds sat down with the media at the Jumeirah Creekside hotel to discuss their preparations for the tournament, reflect on their previous experiences in the emirate and share some of their off-court passions and activities.
Two of the top four seeds in Dubai hail from Spain with defending champion Garbine Muguruza at No.4 and Paula Badosa at No.3.
Muguruza, a former world No.1 and a two-time Grand Slam champion, has been at the forefront of Spanish tennis on the women’s tour for many years now.
The 28-year-old has reached major finals on all three surfaces, won the French Open in 2016, Wimbledon in 2017, and was Australian Open runner-up in 2020.
Currently ranked No.6 in the world, Muguruza has welcomed the rise of her compatriot Badosa, who has reached a career-high No.5 last Monday, to become just the fourth Spanish woman to crack the top five in the standings.
“I feel like it’s great. She’s so talented. Now I think she put the puzzle together, really jumped from one year to another. She always had that tennis in her, it just took her time,” Muguruza said on Sunday of Badosa, who is four years her junior.
“It’s great to have her and to see her around. She’s good competition also. I look forward to sharing more experiences with her, facing her.”
Muguruza and Badosa faced off in the semi-finals of the season-ending championships in Guadalajara last November, with the former eventually landing the title.
With former top-10 player Carla Suarez Navarro retiring from tennis last season, Muguruza is happy she has Spanish company at the top.
“Having someone in the tour also from the same country. I also miss Carla a lot now that she’s gone. Now Paula came to the game. It’s always good,” Muguruza added.
“Spain is a country of tennis. I feel like now it’s pretty equal, right? I think men’s were dominating for a while, then women. Now I feel like both (are on level terms).”
Like mother, like daughter
With her profile continuing to rise thanks to her excellent results over the past year, Badosa’s off-court commitments have increased and so have her media appearances.
The 24-year-old Catalonian was born in New York to Spanish parents who both worked as models in the fashion industry. Her boyfriend, Juan Betancourt is also a model/actor, which means Badosa has plenty of people around her who can give her modeling tips during photoshoots for sponsors or magazine covers.
It turns out she doesn’t really need the advice as Badosa revealed she enjoys that part of her job and seems to be a natural at it.
“I have to be honest. Of course, my priority is tennis and I love to play tennis. But I like these kind of things because I grew up with it,” she said.
“I do it alone for the moment. I don’t need tips. But, yeah, I enjoy it as well. Sometimes it’s a little bit stressful because you don’t have time for everything. But I try to schedule my day quite OK. So for the moment it’s nice and I enjoy it.
“I did ‘Elle’ and ‘Vogue’ this year. Some Spanish magazines that are important. It was very exciting for me. We used to buy these kind of magazines at home for my mom and everything. Now I’m doing the photoshoot for them. It’s amazing.”
Everybody loves Paula
If there’s one player that busts the myth that there is no room for friendship in the WTA locker room, it has got to be Badosa.
The Spaniard is always one of the first names to pop up when a player is asked who they consider to be a friend on tour and it’s something she is particularly proud of.
“That’s very nice to hear. For me it’s the same. I really think like that. I mean, this month that I haven’t played, these last 20 days, I’ve been in touch with a lot of players. It’s very nice to see,” said Badosa.
“I think now players know how to separate things. You can compete on court, but you can have a good relationship. After all, you spend a lot of hours seeing each other during the year, so I think it’s easier and the energy is better.
“A few years ago, of course, it was much different. I really don’t know why. Maybe they wanted to start the match in the locker room. It doesn’t make a lot of sense in my opinion. But I think luckily that’s changing.”
Krejcikova not short on motivation
When Barbora Krejcikova reached the final in Dubai last year, she was ranked 63 in the world and was venturing into unfamiliar territory.
While she was already an accomplished doubles player with major titles under her belt alongside her long-time partner Katerina Siniakova, Krejcikova hadn’t yet proven herself in the same way on the singles court.
In Dubai though, the Czech stormed through the draw to make the biggest final of her career and she rode that wave of success through the spring as she captured her first Grand Slam singles crown at Roland Garros in June.
Krejcikova returns to Dubai this week as the No.2 seed and will open her campaign against French wildcard Caroline Garcia on Monday.
With several big items crossed off her bucket list already, the 26-year-old Krejcikova was asked how she stays motivated week in, week out, throughout the season.
“There are still a lot of tournaments that I haven’t won yet,” replied Krejcikova.
“There are still a lot of players that are ahead of me right now. It’s just a lot of motivation. I see other players are doing well, they are improving every single day. I want to improve with them and I want to get better than them. That’s the biggest motivation. I don’t really have lack of motivation right now.”
Sabalenka searching for solutions
Top-seeded Aryna Sabalenka took a much-needed break after her trip to Australia last month, when she struggled with her serve.
She spent some time with family, hit the reset button and got back to work, opting out of competing in St. Petersburg this week so she could start the Middle East swing refreshed and ready to go.
While the Belarusian isn’t sure she has put her serving woes behind her, she is clear on what she hopes to achieve during this upcoming period.
“After the beginning of the season I would say that the goal is to find the consistency in my game, just find the rhythm back. I don’t know, right now every match for me is a battle. Tough to say,” said the 23-year-old.