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Week in Preview: Clijsters returns; Thiem, Kyrgios, Halep in action

Week in Preview: Clijsters returns; Thiem, Kyrgios, Halep in action

While there aren’t any majors, Masters, or Mandatories played this month, there are plenty of tournaments, from plenty of different locales, on plenty of surfaces.

“Quality over quantity” is the mantra of most. Once we get to the middle of February, though, I start to doubt the wisdom of those words. While there aren’t any majors, Masters, or Mandatories played this month, there are plenty of tournaments, from plenty of different locales, on plenty of surfaces, with plenty of champions giving plenty of happy winner’s speeches. What more could a true fan want? Here’s a look ahead at the big WTA event, and three smaller ATP events, on tap this week. Along with all of those players and matches, we’ll also be getting the year’s most stunning comeback story.


Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (WTA)

 

Dubai, UAE
$2,908,770; Premier
Hard court

Nearly $3 million for 28 players makes Dubai one of the most lucrative tournaments, per person, of the year. And it has attracted a field worthy of that reward. Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina, Belinda Bencic, Sofia Kenin, and Aryna Sabalenka are the Top 6 seeds, and Australian Open finalist Garbiñe Muguruza is No. 9.

But it’s the unseeded woman who Muguruza will play in the first round who will make the big news of this week. Kim Clijsters is coming out of retirement for a second time, at age 36. Can she still hold her own with players 10, 15, even 20 years her junior? There are two reason to say yes: (1) The last time Clijsters came back, she won the US Open in her fourth tournament; (2) Serena Williams is still reaching Slam finals at 38. Clijsters isn’t at Serena’s level, of course, but she’s among the most naturally gifted athletes the game has produced.

First-round matches to watch:

Alison Riske vs. Ons Jabeur
Maria Sakkari vs. Aryna Sabalenka
Clijsters vs. Muguruza
Belinda Bencic vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Kenin vs. St. Petersburg finalist Elena Rybakina


Rio Open (ATP)

Rio de Janeiro
$1,915,485; 500 ranking points
Red clay

If Dominic Thiem was looking for the perfect way to put his five-set loss in the Australian Open final behind him, a trip to Rio was probably just the thing. Here he is, back on his favorite surface, at a tournament he won in 2017, with a chance to bank 500 ranking points, and no one in the Top 20 to oppose him. The second seed is 23rd-ranked Dusan Lajovic, and third is 26th-ranked Cristian Garin.

Breakthrough player: Casper Ruud won his first title in Buenos Aires last week; he could face Thiem in the third round here.

War of the Syllables: Spain’s Alejando Davidovich Fokina vs. Brazil’s Thiago Seyboth Wild


Open 13 Provence (ATP)

Marseille, France
$850,000; 250 ranking points
Indoor hard court

Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, David Goffin, Denis Shapovalov, Karen Khachanov, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Jannik Sinner: Open 13 Provence sports one of the season’s stronger 250-level draws. The competition should be helped by the fact that three of the top young players here—Medvedev, Tsitsipas, and Shapovalov—have gotten off to disappointing starts in 2020, and could use a strong week. Tsitsipas, who is the defending champion, should feel like he’s back at home.

First-round match to watch: Marton Fucsovics vs. Alexander Bublik

Potential second-round match to watch: Medvedev vs. Sinner


Delray Beach Open (ATP)

Delray Beach, Fla.
$673,655; 250 ranking points
Hard court

Giants roam the beach, or at least the courts, in Delray. Nick Kyrgios, Milos Raonic, Taylor Fritz, and Reilly Opelka—all 6’5” or higher—are the Top 4 seeds. Of particular interest is Kyrgios. He played committed tennis in Australia in January; will that continue in the U.S. in February? We’ll find out when he goes up against Tommy Paul in a potentially explosive opener.

First-round matches to watch:

Kyrgios vs. Paul
Frances Tiafoe vs. Tennys Sandgren
Kyle Edmund vs. Ugo Humbert

Wild card: Jack Sock. He’ll try again to get his first win since 2018, this time against Radu Albot.