Dubai | Ostapenko and Svitolina get off the mark, Kasatkina upset

Former champions Jelena Ostapenko and Elina Svitolina got off the mark on Monday at the Dubai Duty Free with wins over Wang Xiyu and Anhelina Kalinina respectively, while Lucia Bronzetti upset Daria Kasatkina and Paula Badosa retired injured against Lulu Sun.

I have so many great memories here, winning here twice, winning my first big title which got me into the top 10 – lots of special moments for me. I'm really happy to be back on this court again and to experience the win. Elina Svitolina

The only former Dubai winners in the 2024 draw reached the 2nd-round after tight contests, Ostapenko coming from behind to fend off Chinese qualifier Wang Xiyu, 5-7 6-2 6-3, while Svitolina overcame Kalinina, her fellow Ukrainian, 6-3 7-6(7).

Kasatkina, the 10th seed from Russia, though, met her match in Italian lucky loser Bronzetti, 7-6(5) 4-6 7-5, and Spain’s Badosa retired due to a right lower back injury after dropping the first set, 6-4, to the Swiss wild-card, Sun.

Ostapenko, the 9th seed from Latvia, won the Dubai title in 2022, and is in fine form, having already scooped up 2 trophies this year, as she has returned to the Top 10.

In fact, the World No 9 has lost to just one player this season, coming up short on all 3 occasions against Victoria Azarenka, but she can breathe a sigh of relief that the Belarusian is on the opposite side of the draw, which means they can only meet in the final.

The Latvian had her work cut out for her, though, getting past the Chinese qualifier on Monday and needing 2 hours and 2 minutes to survive the barrage of aces from Wang Xiyu.

Afterwards, Ostapenko admitted that she had lost track of the score towards the end of the match.

“I thought the score was 5-2, and when it was 6-3, I was like, ‘What’s happening?’,” the 26-year old former French Open champion said in her on-court interview. “It’s the first time I miscounted the score in my life, maybe since juniors. I was ready to play more, and the match was already over!”

Ostapenko kept a level head through the match’s momentum swings, and, after coming out on top of a 3-break exchange at the start of the match, seemed in control as she advanced to a 5-3 lead.

Wang then hit a purple patch on serve, firing 6 aces in two games, while Ostapenko suffered the opposite, double-faulting twice to squander the chance to serve out the set.

The Chinese failed to maintain her momentum, though, and on two separate occasions in the second set, she double-faulted to go break point down, prompting Ostapenko to convert thanks to errant Wang forehands.

Wang, the World No 64, fired 11 aces, and dug herself out of a 0-40 hole with 5 consecutive unreturned serves to lead 3-2 in the decider when she seemed to have regained the advantage, but Ostapenko shrugged off that setback to race through the last 4 games, winning 16 of the last 20 points of the match and converting her first match point thanks to a dead net cord.

“It was a really tough match,” Ostapenko said later. “She’s a great player, very talented, especially being lefty with a big serve. It was not easy with the wind today. I managed to win. That’s what matters.”

Ostapenko finished with 23 winners to 19 unforced errors, maintaining a positive or equal ration across all 3 sets, while Wang’s 13 winners to 7 unforced errors were enough to win her the first set, but the rest of the match saw her commit 25 unforced errors to only 13 winners.

The Latvian burst on to the scene in 2017 when she won the French Open as a 19-year-old, becoming the first unseeded player to win the Grand Slam tournament in 84 years.

“Today I was not really playing my best game, but I was trying to find it and play every point,” she said. “Even when it didn’t go my way, I was just trying to find my game – not like just going through motions and missing even more. Today in very tough conditions I managed to win. I feel like that’s what is helping to build the confidence.”

When she is in this mood, Ostapenko is a problem for anyone, and she will take on Sun in the 2nd-round.

Sun advanced after Badosa broke down in tears following an injury which forced her to retire from their 1st-round match.

Badosa, a former World No 2, has plummeted to 74 after missing the majority of the 2023 season, but she had a favourable Dubai first-round match against Sun, ranked 181, but pulled out of the match after the Swiss won the first set.

It is second time this year that the Spaniard has retired mid-match, having also been down by a set to Diana Shnaider when she pulled out of their Hua Hin Round of 16 contest.


Two-time Dubai champion Elina Svitolina is relishing being back after defeating her compatriot Anhelina Kalinina on Day 2 of the WTA 1000 event

© Francois Nel/Getty Images

Following Ostapenko on the main stadium court in Monday’s first evening match, Svitolina advanced to the to a meeting with Germany’s Tatjana Maria by beating compatriot Kalinina in two tight sets.

Svitolina, a back-to-back winner in Dubai in 2017 and 2018, is competing in her first full season on the WTA Tour, having returned last April following the birth of her daughter Skai in October 2022.

“I have so many great memories here, winning here twice, winning my first big title which got me into the top 10 – lots of special moments for me,” 29-year old Svitolina said. “I’m really happy to be back on this court again and to experience the win.”

Svitolina eased through the first set, striking 14 winners to just 5 unforced errors, including 5 of her 7 aces on the day, but things got trickier in the second, where a winning forehand put-away by Kalinina gave the unseeded player double set point at 5-4.

The World No 20, though, found her way out of that threat and the set moved into a topsy-turvy breaker, in which Kalinina led 5-3 before Svitolina swept to her first match point at 6-5.

Kalinina held firm and grabbed her 3rd set point at 7-6, but Svitolina struck 3 consecutive winners to close out the challenging encounter.

Despite the plethora of critical moments, only one break point was converted all evening, by Svitolina in the 2nd game of the match, the former World No 3 went 1-for-3, while Kalinina missed on all three of hers.


Lucia Bronzetti upset 10th-seeded Daria Kasatkina in the opening round in Dubai

© Francois Nel/Getty Images

Svitolina takes on Lucky loser Lucia Bronzetti next, who overcame 10th-seeded Daria Kasatkina in 2 hours and 45 minutes, notching up the second Top 20 win of her career, following her defeat of Barbora Krejcikova at the 2023 US Open.

Bronzetti faces Anastasia Potapova from Russia, who got past China’s Zhu Lin, 4-6 6-2 6-4, also on Monday.

Kasatkina has a lot on her mind these days and has shown her support for Alexei Navalny after the Russian opposition leader died at the age of 47 following a short walk at his Siberian penal colony.

Navalny, a staunch advocate against corruption, was a vocal critic of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, and Kasatkina has expressed her solidarity by sharing a tribute from his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, on Instagram.

Fans were quick to commend the Russian No 1’s courage on social media, with one writing: “I feel for her. This must be a sad and hopeless time for all Russians wanting some normality. Very brave of her to continue speaking up!”

Another added: “Wow… I hope Daria is fully aware of how risky her loud anti-Russia stance might be. she’s really brave.”

A third fan also voiced their concern, saying: “I worry for her. At this point, everyone who has been following her knows where her morality stands and what she believes in.”


Victoria Azarenka took out Aranxta Rus in straight sets to set up a 2nd-round contest with Elena Rybakina, the No 4 seed in Dubai

© Francois Nel/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Belarusian Victoria Azarenka put away Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, 6-2 6-4, and set up a 2nd-round meeting against the tour’s match-win leader, Elena Rybakina, the World No 4.

Azarenka, a former World No 1, has enjoyed a solid start to the new season, scoring 10-3 in matches on the year, while she has made the quarter-finals or better at 2 of her 3 tournaments.

Two of her 3 losses came at the hands of current World No 1 Iga Swiatek and No 2. Aryna Sabalenka.

“I feel, like, I’ve adopted a good mindset in the way that I can work on things, and through things, in tournaments,” Azarenka said, “Which, I think, was a bit less before where it was, like, you prepare before and then, in tournaments, you’re just trying to play the way you can.

“I think that’s a better approach going into this year. I feel, like, I’ve been able to do that so far pretty well. But I definitely want to clean up some things, make sure that when I play big matches, I’m able to convert some of those opportunities that I create.”

The top 4 women, Swiatek, Sabalenka, Coco Gauff, and Rybakina, are reunited for the first time since the Australian Open in Dubai, and play on Tuesday after receiving 1st-round byes.

Top seed Swiatek, a finalist here last year, who overcame Rybakina in the Doha final on Saturday, is looking for the Doha-Dubai title double, last achieved in 2007 by Justine Henin, and starts against former US Open champion Sloane Stephens.

Sabalenka, the No 2 seeds ends a 3-week layoff since winning her 2nd straight Australian Open, and faces Donna Vekic from Croatia, but has never passed the Dubai quarter-finals.

Also on form is Karolina Pliskova, a former finalist, who won in Cluj-Napoca 2 weeks ago and reached the Doha semi-finals last week, and the Czech got off the mark with a 6-3 7-5 win Zhang Shuai of China.


Former World No 1 Karolina Pliskova was a straight sets winner over wild-card Zhang Shuai on Monday in Dubai

© Francois Nel/Getty Images

In other Day 2 Dubai results, Canada’s Leylah Fernandez cruised to 1st-round win over American Bernarda Pera, 6-3 6-2, the 21-year-old improving her record this season to 6-3.

Fernandez converted 4 of her 5 breaks in the second set, and wrapped up the match in 79 minutes to face World No 26 Jasmine Paolini of Italy, who advanced on Sunday with a 4-6 6-4 6-0 upset win over 11th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia from Brazil.

No 12 seed Liudmila Samsonova from Russia improved to 2-1 against Bulgarian qualifier Viktoriya Tomova with a 7-6(2) 6-3, and meets her compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who dispatched the Czech, Marie Bouzkova, 6-4 6-3.

13th seed Veronika Kudermetova, also from Russia, advanced against Ukrainian wild-card Dayana Yastremska, 6-0 1-6 6-0, and takes on Romanian Sorana Cirstea in round 2.


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