Morita keen to keep Asian flag flying


Dubai: Ayumi Morita has promised to keep the Asian flag flying after she was drawn to face second seed Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania in the first round of the 20th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge that gets under way at the Habtoor Grand Resort Autograph Collection from Monday.

Morita, who achieved a career-high ranking of No. 42 on the WTA, is among the three players from the continent along with Uzbekistan’s Sabina Sharipova and defending champion Hsieh Su-wei of Taipei, at this week’s 20th edition of the tournament. Morita has slipped down the rankings following two surgeries on her right wrist — in January and July — and was handed out a tough draw against second seed Buzarnescu. The 27-year-old Japanese girl, who rose to be world No. 3 in the juniors, is one of four wild cards.

“Ten months is a long time. I know Mihaela and she has been playing very well. I really have nothing to lose as this is my first tournament after ten months of injury. My intention is to go on court and enjoy the match and hopefully I can advance and do well for my country and Asia,” Morita told Gulf News.

The main draw was held on Sunday in the presence of Shaikh Hasher Al Maktoum, President of Tennis Emirates, Khalaf Al Habtoor, Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group, ITF Supervisor Andrei Kornilov, Tournament Adviser Hani Al Khafief, Tournament Director Kyra Nagy, and a few of the players, including Morita, Cornelia Lister, Dalma Galfi and Patty Schnyder.

Hungary’s 19-year-old Galfi — who was the 2015 ITF World Junior Champion — is playing for the second time here and has been given a wild card, where she will start her campaign against one of the four qualifiers. “I am ready for some tough matches during the week. Last year was difficult for me as it was my first year. Now I am wiser and stronger as the experience of the past few months has helped me develop into a better player,” said the 2015 US Open Junior Champion.

Schnyder, who came through the qualifying rounds here last year only to lose in three sets in the first round of the main draw, insisted that she has been playing better. “I feel good at the moment, but then the others are here to win as well. I just want to perform as well as I can and the results will follow,” the former world number seven and 2004 Australian Open quarter-finalist admitted.

“Last year was good here, but for that stupid loss in the first round after leading in the third set. It’s always a tough draw and I feel I am at my near best,” the 38-year-old Swiss added.

Coming into Dubai, Schnyder participated in an ITF event in Canada at the end of October, after which she took some time off to spend time on fitness at home. “After this I will head home for a couple of weeks during Christmas and then set off for Melbourne where the experience from playing here will come in handy,” Schnyder said.

The first round matches of the main draw will get under way from 10am on Monday with the singles final scheduled for Saturday evening.

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