The swing through the Arabian Gulf began on Monday at the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open, which is a relatively new WTA 500 event held at the Zayed Sports City International Tennis Centre in the United Arab Emirates, which is followed by the WTA 500 Qatar TotalEnergies Open in Doha next week, and culminating in the WTA 1000 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, starting on 19 February.
The match is never over until we shake hands. I'm really glad that, even though in some games I didn't play my best, I was fighting and I managed to win the match. These kinds of matches give confidence. Jelena Ostapenko
While top seeds Daria Kasatkina, Belinda Bencic, Elena Rybakina and Veronika Kudermetova all receive byes into the 2nd-round, action began with 7th-seeded Anett Kontaveit from Estonia, who outlasted China’s Zhang Shuai, 4-6 7-6(4) 6-4, coming from behind to advance after 2 hours and 21 minutes of play.
Kontaveit fired 10 aces and faced 13 break points, of which she saved 10, while she broke Zhang 3 times across the match.
The Estonian also won 69% of her first-serve points, compared to Zhang’s 73%, and 52% of her second-serve points to the Chinese’ 48%.
“It was a very difficult game,” Kontaveit admitted afterwards. “I didn’t feel at my best, but I’m very happy that I somehow managed to fight it in my favour and gave as much as I could at that moment.
“I’m very happy to be able to play one more match. Every win gives me a little more confidence.”
Kontaveit began the match impressively, quickly going 3-0 up, but then started having difficulty with her serve, which allowed Zhang, ranked 23rd in the world, to level at 3-3.
The Estonian took a medical break after Zhang broke her in the next game, and although both held thereafter, the Chinese broke her again to land the opening set.
The second stayed evenly matched as they both held serve for the first 5 games, when Kontaveit struck and held to go 4-2 up, but Zhang took the next two, lengthy games and staved off 6 set points before forcing matters into the tiebreak, which the Estonian wrapped up efficiently.
The decider also went Kontaveit’s way after she broke Zhang early, and then rode out the match.
In the Round of 16, Kontaveit will take one of two qualifiers in either American Shelby Rogers or Leylah Fernandez from Canada on Wednesday.
“While both players have come via qualification, they are very good players,” she said. “It will certainly be a tough match.
“I will keep an eye on how their match goes tomorrow [Tuesday] but, right now, the most important thing is for me to recover from this match.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk pulled off a remarkable drop-shot from the baseline en route to her 6-2 1-6 6-2 win over Sorana Cirstea from Romania, taking 71% of her first-serve points and saving 6 of the 8 break points she faced, while she also converted 4 break points on the Romanian’s serve.
Next up for Kostyuk is Bencic, the Swiss No 2 seed.
Elise Mertens also moved into the 2nd-round, the Belgian being the only player to win her match in straight sets on Day 1 when she swept past Italy’s Martina Trevisan, 6-0 6-2, in just 65 minutes, and she will next play 4th-seed Kudermetova from Russia.
Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko, the 5th seed, defeated Danielle Collins after a hour 18 minute scrap, 7-5 1-6 7-5, in a roller-coaster of a contest.
Ostapenko, who collected her 5th and most recent title in Dubai last February, is now on a 6-match winning streak on Emirati soil, and it was her second win in as many meetings at pro level with Collins, but it did not come without some controversy.
Collins appeared to take umbrage with something said by a spectator during the first set, apparently saying ‘excuse me’ to someone in Ostapenko’s player’s box before walking towards the chair umpire and pleading her case.
In the first set, Collins, ranked 42, had made the first move, breaking Ostapenko with a clean return winner for 4-3, but she then double-faulted down break point while serving for the set, and the Latvian stole the opening act with a 4-game run.
The former Australian Open finalist responded superbly in the second, with 3 consecutive return winners paving the way to a double-break lead, and setting the tone for a one-sided passage of play.
Ostapenko, however, wrested momentum back after capturing a titanic tussle at the start of the decider, converting her 5th break point to lead 2-1 before 3 untimely double-faults Collins to draw level at 4-4.
Down the home stretch, though, it was the 2017 Roland Garros champion who was both more aggressive and more clutch as she powered through 12 of the last 15 points to seal victory from 5-4 down.
The final stat sheet fell in Collins’ favour, with 33 winners, including 11 aces, to Ostapenko’s 30, including her 6 aces, and while they had an equal number of 44 unforced errors apiece, the American had fewer double-faults, 7 to 9.
Collins, though, took just 5 of 19 points behind her first serve in the first set, and 7 of 17 in the third, while, overall, her second delivery winning percentage was only 37% compared to Ostapenko’s 49%.
Indeed, Ostapenko’s second serve winning percentages in the first and third sets were a decent 67% and 53% respectively.
“Danielle is a great player, and it’s always a tough match against her because she plays really well and she’s such a fighter,” Ostapenko said in her post-match press conference. “The match is never over until we shake hands.
“I’m really glad that, even though in some games I didn’t play my best, I was fighting and I managed to win the match. These kinds of matches give confidence.”
No 12-ranked Ostapenko is fresh off a run to the Australian Open quarter-finals last month, and will face either China’s Zheng Qinwen or qualifier Rebecca Marino from Canada in the 2nd-round.