On a day of upsets, the Dubai Duty Free lost 3 of its top 5 seeds as defending champion Belinda Bencic, Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and 2-time title holder Elina Svitolina all bit the dust in their first round matches on Tuesday.
I’m trying to analyse what went wrong or what was the turning point. At this point I still don’t know what happened. Still looking for an answer. I really tried to focus, tell myself that I have to keep going. I’m not sure if mentally I kind of underestimated her after [the first set] or something. I didn’t maybe expect her to play that well, to kill so many shots. Belinda Bencic
Bencic, the 4th seed from Switzerland, ran off the first 19 points against Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova before collapsing to a stunning 1-6 6-1 6-1 loss.
Pavlyuchenkova could not have made a worse start before advancing in 92 minutes.
“It’s tennis, sometimes it happens,” the 31st-ranked Russian said.
“You go out there and you just don’t feel anything. I just kept on fighting, still trying to hit every ball, trying to be there.
“Slowly I started to turn it around, I started to find my game. In the third set, it was a good level from both of us.”
Bencic had seemed to be on the way to an easy victory as she dominated the first set but Pavlyuchenkova dug deep to turn the match around, using her greater strength to overpower her opponent.
After dropping her serve, Pavlyuchenkova swept the next 6 games in the second to level the match and then took the first 3 games of the third to put herself firmly in control.
“I just kept on fighting, still trying to hit every ball, trying to be there. Mentally I was quite positive, just playing point by point,” said Pavlyuchenkova, who last month reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.
Bencic mused: “I’m trying to analyse what went wrong or what was the turning point. At this point I still don’t know what happened. Still looking for an answer. I really tried to focus, tell myself that I have to keep going.
“I’m not sure if mentally I kind of underestimated her after [the first set] or something. I didn’t maybe expect her to play that well, to kill so many shots.”
Kenin lost to the in-form Elena Rybakina, who was playing in Russia on Sunday and came through 6-7(7) 6-3 6-3.
Rybakina won the Hobart title in January and reached the final in St Petersburg.
“I prepared with good practice. I didn’t expect that I would win. I tried to do my best,” she said.
“I wasn’t nervous [after flying here from Russia] at all, because I knew it’s going to be tough.
“I didn’t think about that she just won the Australian Open, I know that now everyone can beat everyone,” she added.
Kenin helped the USA reach the Fed Cup Finals immediately after her Melbourne win over Garbiñe Muguruza, who cut short Kim Clijsters’ comeback on Monday.
The 21-year-old World No 7 was the 5th seed in Dubai and she went down in just over 2 hours to her 19th-ranked opponent from Kazakhstan, who stood at 192 in the world just a year ago.
Kenin got off to an early break but was pegged back and had to win the first set in a tiebreak.
Rybakina then dominated the next two sets to reach the second round where she will face Russian Katerina Siniakova.
The American appeared to have been crying before her post-match media conference.
“I’m really upset about this,” Kenin said. “If I wouldn’t be hard on myself, I wouldn’t have good results.
“I need to be hard on myself in order to make sure I’m still in check and doing what I want to do and playing how I want to play.”
Back-to-back champion here in 2017 and 2018, Svitolina was hammered by another American, qualifier Jennifer Brady, 6-2 6-1 in just over an hour.
“Think I competed well from the very beginning,” said Brady. “I think I served pretty well throughout the whole match. Started off strong on the serve, was able to apply pressure on the return games. I was happy with the way I performed.”
Svitolina had little to offer as the 52nd-ranked Brady gained her second victory this season over a Top 10 opponent after beating Ashleigh Barty in Brisbane.
The Ukrainian’s usually steady game was nowhere to be found at the Aviation Club as first-round play concluded.
“It was not a bad start, but then everything just went downhill,” Svitolina said. “I wish I could regroup better.
“In the end, I didn’t feel so good the ball. Just everything was all over the place today.
“Before I was more composed with my game. Now it’s little bit of a struggle. Maybe mentally or something.”
The shock defeats leaves the spotlight on the tournament’s top seed Simona Halep and 2nd-seeded Karolina Pliskova, who begin in the second round after byes on Wednesday.