Dubai | Three seeds fall on opening day at Dubai Duty Free as Jabeur pulls out

Jasmine Paolini upset Beatriz Haddad Maia on Day 1 of the Dubai Duty Free WTA 1000, while two other seeds, Ekaterina Alexandrova and Caroline Garcia fell to Magdalena Frech and Ashlyn Krueger respectively, and Ons Jabeur pulled out because of her right knee injury.

If I win a Grand Slam, I'm never playing tennis again That would be the last—I'll be, like, 'I'll see you guys never. I'm out'!" Sloane Stephens

Paolini, the World No 24, and one of the highest-ranked unseeded players in the draw, fought her way past Haddad Maia, the 11th seed from Brazil, 4-6 6-4 6-0, in an hour and 58 minutes.

Haddad Maia was a point away from a 6-4, 5-2 lead, but the Italian got herself back into contention, before winning 10 consecutive games to wrap up a remarkable come-back win.

Paolini, who reached her first Grand Slam Round of 16 at this year’s Australian Open, grabbed the 9th Top 20 win of her career.

Poland’s Frech toppled the Russian 14th seed, Alexandrova, 7-6(2) 6-3, to pick up her second Top 20 win of the year, her first coming against Garcia at the 2024 Australian Open.

Like Paolini, Frech posted her first Grand Slam Round of 16 appearance in Melbourne, beating Garcia en route before losing to Coco Gauff.

Frech is currently ranked No 52, one spot lower than her career-high ranking, which came directly after her AO run.

Krueger, an American teenager who received a wild-card into the Dubai draw, put paid to Garcia’s hopes on Sunday after battling past 16th-seeded Frenchwoman, 3-6 6-3 6-3, in an hour and 55 minutes, and notching up her first career match-win in the main draw of a WTA 1000 event, and only her second victory over a Top 25 player, her first coming over Victoria Azarenka at s-Hertogenbosch last year.

The 19-year-old has risen to No 74 in the world, having been ranked 155 this time last year, and finishing 2023 strongly, winning her first WTA singles title in Osaka.

The American made the most of her Dubai main-draw wild-card by ousting Garcia, a former World No 4, from a set down and finishing the match with 5 more winners and 10 fewer unforced errors than the Frenchwoman.


Ons Jabeur has been struggling with a right knee issue and has pulled out of Dubai

© Karim Jaafar/AFP via Getty Images

Having spoken about how much it means to compete in the Middle East, Ons Jabeur made the tough call to withdraw from Dubai as the Tunisian is still struggling with the right knee issue that factored into her Abu Dhabi loss to Haddad Maia in the quarter-finals.

“Regrettably Ons Jabeur has had to pull out of this year’s tournament,” said tournament organisers in a statement. “We know how much this event means to her, playing in front of a strong Arab support. We wish her all the best in her recovery from injury and look forward to seeing her back in Dubai very soon.”

The Tunisian had also posted earlier losses to Russian prodigy Mirra Andreeva in the Australian Open, and to Lesia Tsurenko from Ukraine in her opening round at the Qatar Open.

“Dear friends and family, I wanted to share with you all that my knee is not holding, it’s been unbearable to play with the pain and not being able to give my best on the court is frustrating,” Jabeur said in an official statement. “After consultation of my doctors and team we have decided that I will have to withdraw from Dubai this week and go for more medical treatments.

“Looking forward to reconnecting with all on the courts for the US swing. Thank you for your continuous support. Love you, Ons.”

It is undoubtedly a setback for Jabeur, who was forced to skip the events in Doha, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi last year due to surgery for an enlarged nodule that was preventing her from flying.


Sloane Stephens got past qualifier Clara Burel in 3 sets to set up a 2nd-round meeting with World No 1 Iga Swiatek

© Francois Nel/Getty Images

Meanwhile, since Dubai kicked off on Sunday, top seed Iga Swiatek has learned her 2nd-round opponent will be Sloane Stephens, after the American former US Open champion beat a qualifier, Clara Burel from France, 6-4 1-6 6-2, while World No 2, Aryna Sabalenka, returning after her Australian Open title win, will face Donna Vekic, the Croatian a 6-2 6-4 winner over China’s Wang Xinyu.

Stephens has signalled that she is aiming to end her playing career on a high.

“Obviously I’m getting older. I’m 30,” she told USA Today’s Mike Freeman. “Do I think I’m going to win the French Open? I don’t know. Is it possible? Maybe. But, like, I just think that I’ve got a lot of tennis [left] and I think that’s a good goal [winning another Grand Slam event].

“I always say it’s nice to have something to look forward to. So, yeah, I think that would obviously be an amazing feat if I did do that. It would be nice to finish on a good note.

“If I win a Grand Slam, I’m never playing tennis again,” she added. “That would be the last—I’ll be like, ‘I’ll see you guys never.’ I’m out.”

Another Grand Slam title holder, Sofia Kenin, recorded her 5th consecutive loss as she fell to on-form Sorana Cirstea, 6-3 7-6(2).

The American, who won the Australian Open in 2020, found some inspired tennis late last year, which made fans hope that she was getting back to her best, and while she played well at the World Tennis League ahead of the New Year, she has struggled for main draw wins since.

Cirstea outplayed Kenin on Sunday, the steadier of the two on this occasion, and the only break point the Romanian faced was at 5-4 in the second set when she served to close out the match.

Kenin was able to convert to level and then fought hard to fend off more break points to move ahead 6-5, but Cirstea held to move matters into the breaker, where the Romanian proved the sharper and finally sealed the win.


Emma Navarro came from behind to beat Katerina Siniakova and set up a meeting with 8th-seeded Maria Sakkari

© Francois Nel/Getty Images

Another American, Emma Navarro, met with better success, rebounding to see off Czech Katerina Siniakova, 4-6 7-5 6-4, after a 2 hour 40 minute tussle.

Now ranked 23 in the world, the 2021 NCAA singles champion for the University of Virginia turned pro in 2022 to try to make her way on the pro tour.

The 22-year has put in the hours since the start of the 2023 season, when she was ranked 149, and began at an ITF 25K event in Florida, kicking off a non-stop schedule that ran through 29 tournaments and a total of 88 singles matches.

“I felt like it was really important to just take my time and, kind of, go through this rite of passage of playing ITFs and getting a bunch of matches in,” Navarro said. “Just gaining confidence in who I am as a player, and how I like to play, and the plays I like to go to in big moments, just figuring all that stuff out.

“By getting a lot of matches in, I think that was really important for me and it gave me a lot of confidence coming into this new level.”

She captured 5 ITF titles and made inroads on the Hologic WTA Tour, reaching her first WTA quarter-final on her favourite surface, clay, in Strasbourg, and, a month later, she was into her first WTA semi-final, this time on the grass in Bad Homburg, followed by her first hard-court semi-final in San Diego.

The progress was quiet and incremental and, by the end of the year, Navarro found herself knocking on the door of the Top 30, and has shown no signs of any wavering belief in 2024, opening the season with her first WTA title in Hobart and a run to the 3rd round at the Australian Open.

On Sunday, Navarro came from a set and 5-3 down to defeat Siniakova and will face 8th-seeded Maria Sakkari from Greece next.

The win was Navarro’s 13th of the year, putting her behind only Elena Rybakina and Jelena Ostapenko for the most wins on tour.

If the trend continues, Navarro won’t be flying under the radar for much longer, as the American No 4 sits only behind Coco Gauff, Jessica Pegula, and Madison Keys, and, if she can hold that position, a spot on the US Olympic Team would be hers for the taking this summer.

“As a tennis player, I would want [fans] to know that although I don’t show a lot of emotion, I’m always giving it 110%,” Navarro said. “It means the world to me. I’m going to always fight as hard as I can until the last point. Even if I’m not first-pumping or doing whatever, it doesn’t mean it matters any less to me.

“I put my all into this. Results and rankings don’t come easily, although someone like me, it looks like I just showed up in the rankings, but I’ve put a lot of work in over the years, and so has the team that I have around me.

“It takes a lot of hard work, and it’s been a long time coming. It’s taken a lot of years to get here.”


Lucky loser Elisabetta Cocciaretto upset Elise Mertens to line up Coco Gauff, the 3rd seed, next

© Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images

In other Day 1 results in Dubai, Germany’s Tatjana Maria needed just 61 minutes to dispatch Varvara Gracheva from France, 6-2 6-1, and awaits the winner of the all-Ukrainian match between Elina Svitolina and Anhelina Kalinin; while lucky loser Elisabetta Cocciaretto from Italy upset Belgian Elise Mertens, 1-6 6-3 7-6(3) after a 2 hour 24 minute battle to set up a meeting with the winner between Karolina Pliskova from the Czech Republic and Chinese wild-card Zhang Shuai.


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