Some of the smaller or niche-flavored tournaments in the month of February (think South American clay) can and do involve very easy bracket paths.
Last year, when I covered the inaugural Phoenix ATP Challenger Tour event in my hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, I noted that the quality of the field for the challenger event was better than some ATP 250 events, and almost as good as (if not better than) some ATP 500 fields.
The non-prestige tournaments in tennis can offer some very generous sequences of matches. It doesn’t mean the points count any less. It doesn’t mean championships or runner-up checks should be less cherished.
Nevertheless, these realities are part of a larger world in which we keep track of the quality of opposition for tennis players in a season.
With all of this as prelude, we can very safely conclude that Simona Halep and Elena Rybakina have not arrived at Saturday’s Dubai WTA final by coasting through a hollowed-out bracket.
No, Halep and Rybakina have done very heavy lifting this week.
Halep defeated unseeded Jennifer Brady in Friday’s second semifinal, but Brady has been knocking off top-20 opponents left and right this year — four, entering Friday’s match.
Brady had beaten Ashleigh Barty, Marketa Vondrousova, Elina Svitolina, and Garbine Muguruza earlier this year… and the last three of those four players this very week in Dubai!
Halep cooled off Brady, and she handled seeded Arena Sabalenka in her previous Dubai match. Before that quarterfinal victory, Halep defeated an in-form Ons Jabeur in what will probably remain the best match of the 2020 Dubai tournament.
Halep had to save one match point against Jabeur. By walking through the fire and surviving, Halep knows she earned her way into this final.
It is no less true for Rybakina. The 20-year-old took down Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin to begin her Dubai campaign. She knocked off Karolina Pliskova and then fended off No. 8 seed Petra Martic in Friday’s first semifinal.
Rybakina didn’t face match point against Martic (which Halep had to endure in her round-of-16 match against Jabeur), but she did have to save set points in both sets to move to the final.
Both women have faced considerable pressure in the face of quality opposition. They climbed past every obstacle. Now, the last obstacle they have is the one standing on the opposite side of the net on Saturday.
Simona Halep and Elena Rybakina have both done heavy lifting in Dubai. Their arms — like their legs — might be tired, but they have one more workday in the month of February.