March 9, 2021 – DUBAI, UAE: Elina Svitolina led a procession of seeds out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday, losing 2-6 6-4 6-1 to former three-time finalist Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Ons Jabeur played her part, with the Arab sporting icon advancing beyond the second round for the first time with a 7-6(6) 4-6 6-2 win over 14th seed and 2020 Dubai finalist Elena Rybakina. The match was a closely-fought affair right up until Jabeur finally took control late in the final set.
“It was a very tough match. I wasn’t feeling happy on the court, but I’m glad that I challenged myself mentally,” said Jabeur. “I always want to win in this kind of tournaments. Honestly, I’m probably not showing the best behaviour on the court but I’m really trying to play and to win here and this win I think could bring some joy to me and help me get through this tournament.”
Fourth seed Petra Kvitova, who arrived in Dubai fresh from winning her 28th career title in Doha, was forced to retire with an injury after dropping the opening set 6-2 and leading Jil Teichmann 4-3 in the second. Fifth seed Kiki Bertens fell 6-1 6-4 against qualifier Tereza Martincova and Madison Keys, seeded 11, was upset 6-4 6-3 by tournament wild card Anastasia Potapova.
Kuznetsova, who has more wins in Dubai than any other active player, appeared to be on her way out of the tournament, but turned the tables on her opponent in dramatic fashion. From 4-4 in the second set she swept the next seven games to lead 5-0 in the deciding set and closed out the contest on her third match point.
Kuznetsova was in despair during the early stage of the match but stuck to her task and manged to turn things around.
“I was feeling so stressed out there in the first set,” said Kuznetsova. “I couldn’t make any balls. The feeling was terrible and I was just focussing on trying to make two or three shots in to see how I can go, how I can regroup.”
Svitolina looked close to tears as the match slipped away from her and said, “She was serving much better in the second set and I missed a few opportunities, but she played really good on the returns and it was not a great response from me. Obviously the loss is very tough because I think I started the match quite good and I was feeling good going into the tournament and I really love to play here in Dubai, so I’m disappointed that it went that way.”
In a three-set struggle, Coco Gauff took just two minutes under two hours to upset 12th seed Marketa Vondrousova 3-6 6-0 6-4 and keep alive her dream of playing in the final on her 17th birthday on Saturday.
“I thought I played well. I’m just staying in there fighting every point, to be honest,” said Gauff, who has been taken to three sets in her last seven matches, winning six. “Today she started off strong and I was making errors but I found my rhythm in the second and third sets.”
“We could not have wished for better entertainment than that provided in our second round matches today,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “Several of those who emerged as the winner had to dig very deep to advance to the next round, and those whose day ended in disappointment can nevertheless be proud of the effort they gave and we wish them well in the future.”
After Kvitova fell behind 4-1 in the first set she received treatment several times during the change of ends before deciding that she could no longer compete.
“Unfortunately, since my semi-final in Doha I felt my (right) adductor and in the second set it got a little bit worse and I could no longer move the way I wanted and I didn’t want to get it even worse,” Kvitova explained. “I’m disappointed how it ended today and that I couldn’t be more in the tournament here in Dubai.”
Other seeds struggled to reach the third round but managed to avoid an upset. Second seed Karolina Pliskova had to battle for more than two hours before overcoming Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 6-7(5) 6-2, and former champion Belinda Bencic was also stretched to the limit, needing two hours 38 minutes to overcome Veronika Kudermetova 6-4 5-7 6-4. But third seed Aryna Sabalenka was able to ease past former finalist Alize Cornet 6-2 6-4, eighth seed Iga Swiatek beat Misaki Doi 6-2 6-4 and ninth seed Garbine Muguruza defeated Amanda Anisimova 6-4 6-2. There were also wins for 10th seed Elise Mertens and 15th seed Annet Kontaveit.
“We have seen yet again how strong the competition is at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, with our 2017 and 2018 champion and top seed Elina Svitolina and fifth seed Kiki Bertens both failing to win their opening match, and Karolina Pliskova and Belinda Bencic both facing such fierce challenges,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “We can look forward to more upsets and excitement as the week progresses.”
The WTA1000 tournament continues until 13th March and then will be followed between 14th and 20th March by the equally exciting ATP event, headed by reigning US Open champion and world number four Dominic Thiem, who will be in competition for the title against five-time 2020 title-winner and world number eight Andrey Rublev, 2021 ATP Cup finalist Matteo Berrettini, three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka, 2020 US Open quarter-finalist Denis Shapovalov, 2020 Dubai semi-finalist Gael Monfils, 2018 Dubai champion Roberto Bautista Agut, 2021 Montpellier winner David Goffin and 2020 US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free and held under the patronage of H. H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.