Globe-trotting Laura Robson faces the heat of elite competition

 

Dubai

If it's Monday it must be Dubai. The United Arab Emirates is the latest destination in Laura Robson's whistle-stop tour of the Middle East and the 19-year-old Briton will break new ground here tonight when she makes her debut in the Dubai Duty Free Championships.

After helping Britain's women qualify for a Fed Cup World Group play-off in Israel just eight days ago, Robson played in Doha last week before boarding another plane to take her place in this week's top-quality field. With 17 of the world's top 20 women here (the only absentees are Maria Sharapova, Li Na and Maria Kirilenko), Robson needed a wild card to take part, though an indication of her growing stature is the fact that she will play Kazakhstan's Yulia Putintseva in the tournament's first night session.

While her tour of the region was briefly soured with the discovery that a box of jewellery had gone missing from her suitcase, Robson has been enjoying her travels. With no direct flights between Israel and Qatar, the world No 45 had to take a detour via Jordan last week before flying to Doha, where she lost first time out against the experienced Daniela Hantuchova.

Tonight Robson faces the rare experience of playing an opponent who is younger than her. Putintseva, aged 18, is the world No 97 and is also here thanks to a wild card. Thereafter the competition gets hotter than the weather – the forecast high for the next few days is a very pleasant 26C – with the winner due to play Agnieszka Radwanska, the world No 4, in the second round.

The globe-trotting will continue next month, when Robson will play in Indian Wells and Miami, and in April, when she may make her first clay-court appearance of the year in Charleston in South Carolina before heading for Buenos Aires, where Britain will play their Fed Cup World Group play-off against Argentina.

"I think we would all have loved a home tie, but we're all going to be ready and it's good that it's going to be on clay because we'll be going directly into the clay season immediately afterwards," Robson said here yesterday. "I think we have a good chance."

With all the travelling, how many days has Robson been able to spend at home this year? "Not very many," she said. "I had a couple of days at home after I got back from Melbourne. I went and saw my friends and socialised a bit. When you have such limited time at home you try to fit in as much as possible."

The top two seeds for this week's tournament are Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, who will swap places today at the top of the world rankings. Williams, who at 31 is the oldest woman to be world No 1 since the rankings were introduced in 1975, secured her sixth spell at the top thanks to her quarter-final victory over Petra Kvitova in Doha last week. She first became world No 1 nearly 11 years ago.

Azarenka enjoyed a measure of revenge for losing the No 1 position when she beat Williams 7-6, 2-6, 6-3 in the final in Doha yesterday. It ended a run of eight successive victories by the American over the Belarusian, including four in Grand Slam tournaments. Until yesterday Williams had lost only twice since last year's French Open, to Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals in Cincinnati and to Sloane Stephens in last month's Australian Open, when she had an ankle injury.

Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal celebrated a title win in his second tournament back following seven months out injured as he swept aside David Nalbandian in straight sets in the final of the Brazil Open. Nadal's 51st victory on the ATP Tour was rarely in doubt as he dismissed his Argentine opponent 6-2, 6-3 in just 78 minutes.

Juan Martin del Potro won his first title of the year when he beat Julien Benneteau 7-6, 6-3 in the World Tennis Tournament final in Rotterdam. Benneteau, who had beaten Roger Federer in the quarter-finals, had one break of serve in the first set but from that point onwards Del Potro took command.

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