DUBAI 8 March 2021: Ons Jabeur made a winning start at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Sunday with a comfortable 6-2 6-3 victory over Katerina Siniakova. She was joined in the second round by teenage sensation Coco Gauff, who defeated Ekaterina Alexandrova 7-6(3) 2-6 7-6(8) in a centre court thriller.
Jabeur was untroubled by her opponent, who reached the final of an ITF tournament in Dubai in December and contested the Australian Open doubles final last month. She showed no sign of nerves as she deals with the expectations that come with her position as a leader of Arab women in sport.
“I’m happy with the win today,” said Jabeur. “I’m playing good. I like the conditions here, so hopefully will continue this way. To be honest, I felt that (expectations) more last week in Doha, and honestly, no one put any pressure (on me). I just put pressure on myself because I want to win so bad. I am trying to take it like easy, whatever happens. Honestly I’m just trying to take it one day at a time.”
“We have enjoyed some exciting contests on the first day of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, with many twists and turns,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “We congratulate today’s winners and look forward to seeing how they progress in the days ahead.”
One match in which the momentum kept changing was Gauff’s battle with Alexandrova, which stretched to two hours 41 minutes. Gauff led the opening set 4-1 but was taken to a tiebreak, Alexandrova dominated the second set and the outcome of the third set went down to the final ball. Gauff led 5-1 but again saw her opponent battle back, fighting off four match points to hold for 4-5 and then break and level at 5-5.
The set then went to another tiebreak, during which Alexandrova held two match points before Gauff finally closed out the contest on her sixth match point.
“Honestly, just mentally staying in there and there’s times where we both could have thrown in the towel and gave up,” said Gauff, who would love nothing more than to celebrate her 17th birthday by taking part in Saturday’s final. “It was a match you’re just happy to get through. To get all the bad swings and the bad misses out of the way and hopefully for the rest of the tournament I can play a lot better.”
Svetlana Kuznetsova was involved in another match, which swung one way and then the other. She had to dig deep to overcome Chinese number one Qiang Wang 6-4 1-6 7-5, taking two hours 21 minutes to earn a second round clash with top seed and two-time Dubai champion Elina Svitolina.
Kuznetsova first played at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in 2003 when she won the doubles title, but she then went on to lose no less than three singles finals and a remarkable four consecutive doubles finals.
Wang, who created headlines when she defeated Serena Williams at the 2020 Australian Open and is currently coached by former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, made a positive start, holding off six break points as she built a 3-0 lead, only for the former world number two to sweep the next five games and go on to take the opening set.
Wang then dominated the second set, and in a tense final set broke to lead 5-4 and serve for victory. Kuznetsova, though, held off the threat and claimed the next three games.
In other first round matches, Barbora Krejcikova upset 16th seed Maria Sakkari 6-2 7-6(4), Veronika Kudermetova defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-6(3) 6-2 and will next play 2019 Dubai champion and number six seed Belinda Bencic, and in a contest between two former finalists Alize Cornet defeated Daria Kasatkina 6-4 3-6 6-1 and will now face third seed Aryna Sabalenka. Anastasija Sevastova advanced when Bernarda Pera retired with Sevastova leading 6-0 5-3, and she will next play second seed and 2015 Dubai finalist Karolina Pliskova. 6-0 5-3
Eight players battled their way through the qualifying rounds to reach the main draw. They are Kaia Kanepi, Katarina Zavatska, Ana Konjuh, Ana Bogdan, En-Shuo Liang, Lesia Tsurenko, Tereza Martincova and Irina-Camelia Begu.
“We could not have wished for more exciting matches to get the tournament off to a fantastic start,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “The quality in so many of today’s matches was at times breath-taking, and there will no doubt be many more exciting battles in the days ahead.”
The WTA1000 tournament continues until 13th March and then will be followed between 14th and 20th March by the equally exciting ATP event, headed by reigning US Open champion and world number four Dominic Thiem, who will be in competition for the title against five-time 2020 title-winner and world number eight Andrey Rublev, 2021 ATP Cup finalist Matteo Berrettini, three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka, 2020 US Open quarter-finalist Denis Shapovalov, 2020 Dubai semi-finalist Gael Monfils, 2018 Dubai champion Roberto Bautista Agut, 2021 Montpellier winner David Goffin and 2020 US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta.