You may know all there is to know about these players on the court, but what happens when the cameras are off and the racquets are down? As the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships return to action on February 17, starting with the Women’s Tennis Assosciation, we take a glance into the off-the-court lives of seven unstoppable WTA players — from current world No 1 Naomi Osaka to former cricketer Ashleigh Barty.
1. Naomi Osaka
The current No 1 in the WTA, Naomi Osaka made history last year when she beat Serena Williams during the final of the US Open, becoming the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam singles tournament. Though Osaka has an aggressive style of play, she’s notoriously shy off the court. When the self-professed introvert went on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, she revealed her celebrity crush was actor Michael B Jordan. (A-list athletes, they’re just like us!) Though she declined Ellen’s offer to text him on her behalf (“No, I’m okay, thank you,” Osaka insisted), DeGeneres reached out to the Black Panther star, anyway. Jordan subsequently surprised Osaka with a tweet on her birthday, inviting her to the ‘Creed 2’ premiere. Osaka said: “I didn’t respond, because I was thinking if I don’t respond, then it means I haven’t seen it yet… I might go. I think it would be really fun.”
The 21-year-old was born to a Haitian father and Japanese mother, and holds dual American and Japanese citizenship. She represents Japan professionally, and became the first Asian player to go to world No 1 with her Australian Open win last month.
2. Caroline Wozniacki
Caroline Wozniacki is a return visitor to UAE, always flashing a smile as the Dubai Duty Free Ambassador. Last year, the Danish player opened up about suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder that causes swelling and stiffness in the joints — particularly the hands and wrists. The 28-year-old took time off to enjoy the Maldives with her fiancee, former NBA star David Lee. Speaking to The Telegraph, Wozniacki said: “Every time you get a diagnosis like that, or are told that your body isn’t functioning in the way it [used] to, there’s a process you have to go through. For me, the off-season has helped. I’ve had time to spend with my friends and family and look at the positives… My condition is a day-to-day thing but I’m ready for the new season. I always work hard.”
3. Elina Svitolina
Athleticism is in Elina Svitolina’s bloodline. The 24-year-old Ukrainian tennis player — also a Dubai Duty Free Ambassador — was born to a wrestler father and a competitive rower mother. She took up tennis after she noticed her brother playing, and getting a lot of attention for it. Currently, Svitolina is dating a fellow tennis player, Frenchman Gael Monfils, and the two of them often show up to support each other at matches. Though Svitolina confirmed the relationship, she was surprised to be quizzed about it after advancing to the third round of the Australian Open last month. “We are here for tennis, so that’s why it was a bit strange,” Svitolina said, at a press conference. Nonetheless, the power couple have a joint Instagram account now, G.E.M.S.life (those are their initials), where they share snaps playing in the snow, raising money for a good cause and enjoying their downtime.
4. Angelique Kerber
The 2018 Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber is a force to be reckoned with on the court, but she switches into fan mode when it comes to a certain German football club — FC Bayern Munich. “I was a Bayern fan right from being a small child, despite coming from northern Germany. Everyone around us supported HSV [Hamburg] or Bremen, so I was the odd one out,” said Kerber in 2013. Last month, Kerber shared a snap of herself with retired tennis player Ana Ivanovic and Ivanovic’s husband, FC Bayern Hall of Famer Bastian Schweinsteiger (he played with the club for 17 seasons). Kerber captioned it: “Friends in town.” The love seems to be mutual, as the FC Bayern Twitter gave Kerber a shout out on her first Wimbledon win, calling it “phenomenal.”
5. Simona Halep
Simona Halep is all about giving back. The Romanian tennis player was world No 1 on two occasions for a total of 64 weeks, which ranks tenth in the history of women’s tennis. Though Halep’s entire life has been about tennis, she’s all for paying it forward, too, and supports a local girl’s ice hockey team in Romania. “I am paying for everything they need — equipment, coaches, some tournaments outside of Romania. They started to beat the boys so it’s good,” she told The Guardian. She also helps young tennis hopefuls, noting that it is an expensive sport to play in Romania.
6. Petra Kvitova
Petra Kvitova is no stranger to Dubai. The 28-year-old Czech player holidayed in the city in 2017, posting a snap of herself on the beach with the Burj Al Arab in the background. Her caption: “Officially in vacation mode.” Kvitova survived an armed burglary and knife attack the year before, causing self-defence injuries, which included multiple lacerations on her left hand. Speaking to the publication Blick, Kvitova said: “I subscribed myself to the Prague University after the injury and I started studying. In order to have something else to do if I gave up with tennis. In order to feel safe. But I am obviously happy to be in the sport again.” Kvitova made a roaring comeback and faced off against Naomi Osaka in the final of the 2019 Australian Open last month. Though she was edged out by Osaka, she has two trusty grand slam titles to her name already.
7. Ashleigh Barty
Some players only have eyes for tennis, but some need to take a break to play other sports — like Ashleigh Barty. At the age of 18, the Australian athlete decided to take an indefinite hiatus from tennis. She had been playing since the age of four, and was a Wimbledon runner-up by 16 — the pressure was mounting. In need of a change, she began to play professional cricket instead. “There’s never a lonesome moment on the field if you’re struggling. There’s 10 other girls that can help you out and get you through the tough times,” Barty said of the team sport. In 2016, she called off her retirement and returned to tennis rejuvenated. Now, the 22-year-old has been touted as one to watch.
Don’t miss it!
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships run from February 17-March 2. Women’s week runs from February 17 until February 23, while men’s week begins on February 25 and ends on March 2. Tickets, available online, start from Dh55.