Garbiñe Muguruza and Elise Mertens, the No 9 and 10 seeds at the Dubai Duty Free Championships, got through to the second round with differing wins over Irina-Camelia Begu and Viktoriya Tomova, while other winners on Monday included Madison Keys, Marketa Vondrousova, Elena Rybakina and Anett Kontaveit, and Petra Martic the only casualty among the seeds.
I've played the Middle East swing for many years, and have played well here before. Still, it's a rush from one tournament to the other, and even if you do well, you don't have time to celebrate. Even if you win Doha or make the final, or even just have a good tournament, there's still the rush to Dubai and to switch the brain! It's a different ball, surface, even temperature, so it's just something that I try to take as a challenge and opportunity because if not, it can be tough. Garbine Muguruza
Muguruza, the former World No 1 from Spain, flew in from the final in Doha on Sunday and had little time to adjust to the different conditions in Dubai, but she maintained her near-perfect run in 2021 with a 6-3 7-5 win over Begu.
The 9th seed rallied from 5-3 down in the second set to defeat the Romanian in an hour 38 minutes.
“It was definitely a challenge because Doha and Dubai are very different tournaments and have different conditions,” she said in her post-match press conference. “I’m just happy that I could fight as much as I could and closed out the match in two sets—especially playing a qualifier who got to have extra time on these courts.
“I only arrived yesterday, so it was a big challenge, but I’m happy I made it and feel like I’m getting into the tournament.”
It was a gritty performance from the Spaniard, who is making her 7th successive appearance in Dubai and finished the match with 23 winners against 32 unforced errors, compared to Begu’s 10 winners and way fewer errors.
Aggressive returning, including a clean winner on break point, helped Muguruza clinch the first break in the second game, but Begu pulled back on serve despite an early 3-0 deficit.
A scorching backhand winner down the line gave Muguruza another break for 5-3, and she fired a series of strong serves to consolidate the break with ease and grab the one-set lead.
Begu deployed an array of deft drop-shots in the second, and twice led by a break, serving for the set at 5-3.
An unexpected forehand winner off the net-cord on break point allowed Muguruza to pull back on serve, and used her powerful returns to nail a further break to take a 6-5 lead.
She won the final 4 games of the match, ending the contest with a forehand winner.
“[Begu and I] have played before, we’ve also trained together, so we know each other’s games,” said Muguruza, who improved to 4-1 against Begu. “I gave her a big battle and in important moments I tried to be very focused and be smart and efficient.”
Next up for Muguruza is 19-year old Amanda Anisimova from the United States, who is playing her first WTA event of the season and dispatched Croatian qualifier Ana Konjuh, 6-2 6-2.
“I’ve played the Middle East swing for many years, and have played well here before” Muguruza said. “Still, it’s a rush from one tournament to the other, and even if you do well, you don’t have time to celebrate.
“Even if you win Doha or make the final, or even just have a good tournament, there’s still the rush to Dubai and to switch the brain!
“It’s a different ball, surface, even temperature, so it’s just something that I try to take as a challenge and opportunity because if not, it can be tough.”
Anisimova, who was kept from playing the Australian Open after testing positive for COVID-19 in Abu Dhabi, swept aside Konjuh, the 2016 US Open quarter-finalist, who herself is on the comeback trail after multiple elbow surgeries.
“I’ll try to look at the player, see her game,” said the Spaniard. “I’ve seen her play before, and almost no one is unknown at this point, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Of the 5 seeds also in action earlier on Monday, 4 advanced as only the No 13 seed Petra Martic from Croatia fell to former Top 10 star Kristina Mladenovic, 7-6(2) 6-4.
Martic had never lost to Mladenovic in 5 previous encounters, including 4 in 2019, but the Frenchwoman, fresh off a quarter-final run at the Open 6ème Sens Métropole de Lyon, proved too strong after a tight first set.
Mladenovic will play America’s Jessica Pegula in the next round, who came through in her opening round against Yaroslava Shvedova from Kazakstan, 6-2 6-1.
Pegula’s compatriot, Shelby Rogers, will play Elise Mertens, the No 10 seed from Belgium, in the second round, who had a tough outing against Viktoria Tomova, a lucky loser from Bulgaria.
Tomova was a last-minute replacement for last week’s Lyon semi-finalist Fiona Ferro after the Frenchwoman withdrew from Dubai due to fatigue.
Presented with a second chance in the tournament, Tomova pushed Mertens to the brink as she sought her first-ever victory over a Top 20 opponent.
Mertens, who won her 6th career WTA singles title at the Gippsland Trophy in Melbourne earlier this year, converted 8 of her 9 break points to counteract her 51 unforced errors, while Tomova had a whopping 17 break points but only converted 6 times.
After an array of breaks in the first set, Tomova came out on top in a 6-deuce game to break Mertens for the 4th time in the opening frame and earn the one-set lead.
Mertens regrouped in the second, never dropping serve as she levelled the match with a backhand winner down the line.
Still, Tomova’s defensive skills kept the decider competitive as Mertens held break leads of 1-0 and 4-2, but the Bulgarian levelled both times.
A love break by Mertens for 5-4 was nearly squandered when she had to stare down 2 break points while serving for the match, but she finally held on for the win after a poorly-timed flurry of errors from Tomova.
Mertens survived the gruelling two-and-half-hour marathon, 4-6 6-2 6-4.
Her next opponent, Rogers, stopped qualifier Kaia Kanepi from Estonia, 7-6(4) 6-2, In a hard-hitting contest.
Meanwhile, Madison Keys and Marketa Vondrousova, seeded No 11 and No 12, respectively, each advanced in straight sets, and will next play wild cards Anastasia Potapova from Russia and American Coco Gauff.
Keys, the 11th seeded American, defeated Chinese qualifier En-Shou Liang, 6-1 6-1, in her opener.
“I played a really clean first set, and in the second set I had some break points against me but I thought I handled them pretty well and kept the momentum,” Keys said. “It’s been tough.
“I definitely feel a little bit behind compared to everyone else, but I know if I keep working at what I’ve been practising and try and implement that in matches then more matches will come.”
Keys’ second-round opponent, Anastasia Potapova, a wild card, also posted a straight-sets, 6-3 6-2 victory over Germany’s Laura Siegemund.
Vondrousova from the Czech Republic defeated qualifier Ana Bogdan from Romania, 6-4 6-4, and takes on Gauff next.
On Sunday, Gauff saved 2 match points before fending off Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova, 7-6(3) 2-6 7-6(8), after having trouble closing it out .
The 16-year-old American led 5-1 in the 3rd set and twice had chances to serve out the match, holding 4 match points in the 10th game, but Alexandrova rallied to force a tiebreak.
Gauff then had to save match points in the breaker before winning the last 3 points to finish off the match in 2 hours, 40 minutes.
“There were times when we both could have thrown in the towel and gave up, but we both were mentally fighting,” Gauff said. “I think it’s just one of those that you’re happy that it’s over, and happy that you fought through it.”
Gauff’s 17th birthday is next Saturday, the same day as the Dubai final.
“That’d be a pretty good birthday gift, to make it to the final,” she said.
Elsewhere, on Monday, in an intriguing clash between unseeded former Top 4 players, France’s Caroline Garcia roared back from a set down to defeat 3-time major champion Angelique Kerber from Germany, 3-6 6-2 6-4.
Garcia will next face Roland Garros quarter-finalist Martina Trevisan, who got into the main draw after Victoria Azarenka withdrew due to the back injury that forced her out of the Doha semi-finals.
In all Czech clash, qualifier Tereza Martincova defeated Kristyna Pliskova, 7-6(5) 6-7(6) 6-3, and will play 5th seed Kiki Bertens for a place in the round-of-16.
Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko claimed the last second-round spot in Dubai Open defeated Patricia Maria Tig from Romania, 6-3 6-3, and will play Czech Barbora Krejcikova next.