Bencic is Dubai champ; Federer hunts for 100th title

By Sheena Amos

DUBAI 24 February 2019: Swiss Belinda Bencic fought her way to an upset 6-3 1-6 6-2 victory over Petra Kvitova on Saturday to win the 2019 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title. She is only the third unseeded player to win the title, following Venus Williams in 2014 and Sara Errani in 2016.

Meanwhile, another Swiss, Roger Federer faces a difficult challenge as he seeks an incredible eighth title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships this week. If he wins, it will be his 100 WTA title.

Bencic beat an incredible four top 10 opponents during a fantastic week, saving six match points in overcoming Aryna Sabalenka and then defeating Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina before rounding it off with victory over Kvitova. It is her first tour level title since mid-2015 and comes after she missed several months with injuries that saw her ranking drop from seven to 318. Her victory this week lifts her to world No. 23.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s incredible. I mean, I still cannot believe it,” said Bencic. “Especially I’m realising after two rounds, we were already saying, ‘Wow, this is a great tournament. Now it’s only bonus’.

“Then I won against Sabalenka after being out already. We said the same thing again. Really, the expectations after two rounds were not there anymore. So many times I was close from defeat. It’s unbelievable that I ended up winning this. I mean, of course they are very high-quality players, all of them. I’m so happy about the consistency that I could back up my wins. After playing a tough match, I could mentally win another one. It’s very difficult. Yeah, just very proud of that.”

Petra Kvitova

Kvitova was playing in her third final of 2019, winning Sydney and finishing as runner-up at the Australian Open, and she was not only bidding to reclaim the title she won in 2013 but to become the first No. 2 seed to win the tournament after Amelie Mauresmo was defeated in 2007 and Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2008.

“I think was kind of an up-and-down match today,” said Kvitova. “She came strong. I came strong in the second. The third was really a bad game which I played. I don’t know. I just felt that I’m really getting better, that I’m playing better. But in the specific moment in the third set, I just didn’t do the best.”

Kvitova had not dropped a set to Bencic in their three previous meetings, and beat her just last month in Melbourne. But this time it was different.

“I think definitely I served much, much better in Melbourne than here. Whole tournament I was pretty fighting with my serve. Wasn’t really great. I played a lot from the second serve,” she admitted. “My serve just didn’t help me at all. I think, of course, that she was with the confidence here, as well. She won from the match points down, turned it around. I think everything was just on her side.”

To follow up her victory Bencic now plans to go skydiving.

“My dad is saying, ‘Why risk your life’, stuff like that. (But) there is no risk, I think. Bunjee jumping is worse. Skydiving, it’s on my to-do list. We have to do it anyway in my life. We can do it now. Yeah, it’s the first thing we will do in the morning. I’m providing a lot of heart attacks on the court. Now I’m going to provide heart attacks off the court. I mean it very seriously, yeah.

Doubles Champs

The doubles final was won by Su-Wei Hsieh and Barbora Strycova, who defeated Lucie Hradecka and Ekaterina Makarova 6-4 6-4. Hsieh also contested the 2018 final with Peng Shuai, and it was her first title together with Strycova since they won Indian Wells in March 2018.

Roger Federer is all Set

Roger Federer is within touching distance of one more win: 100 singles titles. The 37-year-old begins his 20th year on the tennis tour chasing Jimmy Connors’ 109 titles since the Open Era began in 1968.

Roger Federer

Roger Federer, seeded two in a field that includes nine of the world’s top 20, plays another Tour veteran, Philipp Kohlschreiber, in the first round. And if he survives that hurdle he could find himself up against Fernando Verdasco, who went all the way to the final before losing to Andy Murray during his last Dubai appearance two years ago. Verdasco plays a qualifier in his opening round.

Top seed Kei Nishikori is making his Dubai debut and plays Benoit Paire in the first round, with a potential quarter-final against Australian Open sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas looming later.

But it is third seed Marin Cilic, who is playing in Dubai for the first time since 2010, who has the most intimidating opening match among the top contenders for the title. He has to tackle flamboyant Frenchman Gael Monfils, who earlier this month reached the semi-finals of the Sofia Open and followed that up by beating three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka in the Rotterdam final.

Fourth seed Karen Khachanov plays Nikoloz Basilashvili, fifth seed Tsitsipas plays Matthew Ebden, sixth seed Borna Coric opens against Mikhail Kukushkin, seventh seeded Milos Raonic plays Jan-Lennard Struff and eighth seed Daniil Medvedev will play a qualifier.

Defending champion Roberto Bautista Agut has begun the 2019 season well, beating Novak Djokovic and Wawrinka on his way to winning the Doha title before reaching the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. He begins the defence of his title against wild card Ramkumar Ramanathan and he could potentially meet Kukushkin, who he defeated in Melbourne, in the quarter-finals.