Tuesday proved a tough day for seeds at the Dubai Duty Free, with top seed Elina Svitolina among those tumbling out of the WTA 1000 draw, joined by Petra Kvitova, Kiki Bertens and Elena Rybakina at the exit doors.
I have no doubts I can compete against the best, so I just want to play and enjoy my game. I was feeling so stressed out there in the first set, I couldn’t make any balls, the feeling was terrible. I was just focusing on trying to make two or three shots in, to see how I can go, how I can regroup, that’s it. Svetlana Kuznetsova
Safely through to the 3rd round, however, are Karolina Pliskova, now the favourite for the title, Aryna Sabalenka, Belinda Bencic, Iga Swiatek, Garbiñe Muguruza and Elise Mertens.
Svitolina looked to have matters under control after she won the first set against the dangerous Svetlana Kuznetsova, but the Russian turned things round in the second and then stormed through the decider to upset the World No 5, 2-6 6-4 6-1 to reach the round of 16.
It was a remarkable comeback and it took Kuznetsova just under 2 hours to pull off the upset of the tournament.
Svitolina won back-to-back Dubai titles in 2017 and 2018, but Kuznetsova also has a strong history at the tournament with the most match-wins at 21 among active players at the event.
“I have no doubts I can compete against the best, so I just want to play and enjoy my game,” said Kuznetsova, who has been the runner-up in Dubai 3 times.
It was a routine opener for Svitolina, but Kuznetsova, a former World No 2, turned the tables at the end of the second set, cracking a return winner to grab a set point at 5-4. and then converting after the Ukrainian fired a forehand wide.
“I was feeling so stressed out there in the first set, I couldn’t make any balls, the feeling was terrible,” said Kuznetsova, who could not muster a single break point in the first frame. “I was just focusing on trying to make two or three shots in, to see how I can go, how I can regroup, that’s it.”
Using her deadly forehand, Kuznetsova went on a run of winning 8 games in a row as she stormed to a 5-0 lead in the decider and, although Svitolina saved 2 match points and got on the scoreboard at 5-1, the Russian held firm, fending off 2 break points in the next game to complete the upset.
The highest ranked player left in the draw is 2nd-seeded Pliskova of the Czech Republic, who battled to a 6-3 6-7 6-2 win over Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova.
Pliskova had lost to Sevastova at Moscow 2015 and Madrid 2017, but seemed to have the measure of the Latvian’s wiles as she advanced to a 6-3, 5-3 lead, without dropping serve.
Serving for victory, however, proved complicated as Sevastova saved 2 match points, one with a dead net cord, and then recovered from 1-4 down in the ensuing tiebreak when Pliskova produced inopportune double-faults.
The Czech, who was the runner-up in Dubai in 2015, briskly righted the ship the second and swept through the decider.
Bencic, the No 6 seed, overhauled Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova, 6-4 5-7 6-4, in another battle that saw the Swiss needing 5 match points to seal the win with her 13th ace in a contest lasting more than two and a half hours.
The No 4 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, was another high-profile casualty after she retired hurt having lost the first set to Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann with the score standing at 6-4 3-4.
“Since my semi-final in Doha, I felt my adductor,” said Kvitova “It didn’t get any better in the second set, it just got a little bit worse and I felt pain almost everywhere on the right leg.
“So, unfortunately, I couldn’t really move how I wanted, and I didn’t want to get it even worse. So that’s unfortunately why I retired.”
2013 Dubai champion Kvitova saw her 4-match winning streak halted by her retirement, as Teichmann’s solid returning pulled her ahead and eventually gained her a second career victory over a Top 10 opponent.
The Swiss, the World No 54, clocked return winners on break points twice in the first set as she powered her way to a commanding 4-1 lead in the all-left-handed affair.
At that point, Kvitova received treatment on her leg, but Teichmann remained focused and fired an ace on her 3rd set point to close out the opener..
A Teichmann double-fault on break point gave Kvitova the early advantage in the second as the 2-time Wimbledon champion moved ahead 4-1, but another cracking return winner sealed yet another break for Teichmann as she pulled back on serve at 4-3, and Kvitova retired.
Kiki Bertens, the No 5 seed from the Netherlands, who has just returned from achilles surgery, was also on the end of an upset as she lost 6-1 6-4 to a qualifier from the Czech Republic, Tereza Martincova, while Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur took out Rybakina, the 14th seed from Kazakstan, 7-6(6) 4-6 6-2, in an impressive performance.
It was a smoother day for other top ten seeds, with 3rd seed Sabalenka of Belarus beating France’s Alizé Cornet, 6-2 6-4, and Poland’s 8th seed Swiatek winning against lucky loser Misaki Doi from Japan, 6-2 6-4.
Spain’s 9th seed Muguruza dispatched America’s Amanda Anisimova, 6-4 6-2, while the 10th-seeded Mertens of Belgium beat American Shelby Rogers, 6-3 6-3.
“Even though I was leading the whole match, I knew that I’d have to just work really hard, because first matches are always tricky,” Swiatek said to the media after her win.
Swiatek needed an hour and a quarter to notch her sixth straight victory, having won the Adelaide title in her most recent event.
“I learned that I shouldn’t bring all the wins with me on court. I should just focus on a new match, like it’s a new journey.”
It was a dominant display by Swiatek with her first serve, as she won 21 of her 22 points when she got that shot into play, and her 6th ace closed out the first set.
In the second, Doi used pinpoint accuracy and some divine passes to decrease her deficit from 5-1 to 5-4, but Swiatek was able to power her way to a love hold in the final game to secure victory.
Swiatek and Muguruza will now meet in the 3rd round clash, pitching the reigning Roland Garros champion against the 2016 Paris title winner.
Muguruza held the upper hand throughout her hour-and-a-half encounter with Anisimova, converting 4 of her 12 break points while only dropping her serve once.
“I feel like now I’m a little more open to adapt to new circumstances, more open mentally as well to face these challenges, so I feel like it’s a combination of things,” Muguruza said. “Certainly experience, and now, I know how to deal with myself more as well.
“I’m very happy with the consistency so far.”
The former World No 1 needed just the single break of serve to claim the one-set lead, although things got trickier in the early stages of the second set as 2 breaks were traded, but the Spaniard turned the tide in her favour from there, using her powerful serve and ground-strokes to wrap up 5 of the next 6 games and set up her first meeting against the 19-year-old Swiatek.
“Of course, last year [Swiatek] won the French Open, so she had a big breakthrough,” Muguruza said while looking ahead to the round of 16.
“It’s never easy to go out there and win a Grand Slam, so tomorrow I’m going out there and playing a very good player, and looking forward to that.”
“I’m happy that I get to play a player that I didn’t play for whatever reason, the draw or something, and top players especially.”
All 16 second-round matches were played on Tuesday, and there was no shortage of drama.
Within the first 3 hours, 16-year-old Coco Gauff from the US came back from a set down to beat No 12 seed Marketa Vondrousova from the Czech Republic, 3-6 6-0 6-4, while Russia’s Anastasia Potapova, also 19, dispatched another American, Madison Keys, the 11th seed, 6-4 6-3.
Gauff makes a habit of 3-setters, and she has now played 25 of them out of her 60 WTA main draw and qualifying appearances, including her last 7 matches.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Gauff said. “Obviously I like to close in two, but a win is a win and if it takes three sets, I’m willing to play three sets.”
Gauff’s ability to find her best in the tightest moments was evident against Vondrousova, who initially dominated with her heavy topspin to move up a 4-1 double break until the American adjusted to her game.
She also improved her serving and, although the remaining run of play stayed tight, it was the teenager who won 17 of the last 23 games.
The 2nd-set whitewash belied how close the players were to each other, with 5 of the 6 games going to deuce, but Gauff’s stranglehold on it had begun before the first changeover.
An extraordinary run saw 12 deuces across the first 3 games, with Gauff saving 4 game points in the first and 4 break points in the second before sealing the double break on her 7th break point in the third.
Tension mounted in the third set, and Vondrousova was unable to find her biggest shots when it mattered most and was undone by 10 ill-timed double-faults, while Gauff’s implacable ability to raise her game won the day.
“I was asking when you toss the ball, are you allowed to catch it with your racket,” explained Gauff about an on-court disagreement. “I thought you had to catch it with your hand or let it bounce first.
“The umpire said it’s allowed if it’s not a motion. It wasn’t meant to make her upset, it was just asking the question. I left it there but I could tell she was a bit frustrated by that.
“My personality, I fight fire with fire,” she smiled afterwards. “I lost the last two points of that game and she had wild screams – and I like to scream, so I screamed back.”
Gauff’s fellow former junior World No 1 Potapova also impressed in posting her 3rd career Top 20 win over Keys in a match that saw 12 breaks of serve and the Russian was always in front.
Soaking up her opponent’s power, Potapova proved increasingly able to move Keys around the court before delivering winning forehands as the contest progressed.