DUBAI: The top two seeds in this week’s WTA 1000 field are safely through to round three of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships after making light work of their second-round matches on a topsy-turvy day for seeded players at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium.
Following an afternoon session in which three of the top seven seeds fell to lower-ranked opponents, world No. 1 Iga Swiatek safely navigated a potentially tricky tie against Leylah Fernandez to keep her hopes of back-to-back WTA titles alive following her victory in Doha last weekend.
In front of a Center Court crowd who showed support for both players, Swiatek raced into a 4-0 lead and never looked in any real danger despite a gutsy display from Fernandez. The world No. 1 had too much guile, power and speed, dispatching Fernandez 6-1 6-1 in just 1 hr 12 minutes to set up a third-round clash with 14th seed Liudmila Samsonova.
“That was much tougher than the score says. I really needed to work hard. The courts here are a little faster than Doha, so it took a little adjusting but was good in the end,” said Swiatek, who was roared on by a strong contingent of Polish fans.
Prior to Swiatek taking to Center Court, No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion, needed only 59 minutes to tame Lauren Davis 6-0 6-1. After breaking the American in the second game, Sabalenka never looked back, sending an ominous warning to her rivals.
“I have a better understanding now of what I need to do to keep going. I’m getting used to being announced on court as the Australian Open champion, but I just have to keep moving forward. I had a few days off in Dubai after the Australian Open, a few days at the beach and in some nice restaurants, but then it was straight back to work,” said Sabalenka.
In the final match on Center Court, the US’s Coco Gauff needed just 1hr 10 minutes to beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-0 6-4 and book her place in the third round, where she will play ninth seed Elena Rybakina. Wimbledon champion Rybakina beat Marie Bouzkova 7-5 6-2 in 1hr 43 minutes.
“I just focused on my service games as my opponent was returning well. I stuck to my gameplan and just focused on my serves, particularly in the second set,” said Gauff, who is also in the quarterfinals of the Doubles with partner Jessica Pegula.
One of the day’s most eagerly anticipated matches played out in the women’s Doubles on Court 3, where Veronika Kudermetova and Liudmila Samsonova denied India’s Sania Mirza a fairytale ending to her storied career with a 6-4, 6-0 triumph. Having outlined her retirement plans pre-tournament, Mirza, who played alongside the US’s Madison Keys in what proved to be the tennis icon’s final match, ends her playing days with a legacy of inspiring an entire generation of Indian tennis players and fans during a milestone-filled 18-year career.
“I’m just really grateful for everything that I’ve been able to achieve and been able to do in my last 20 years. It’s been a long career, and I’m looking forward to the next phase of my life. I guess it’s still sinking in a little bit. I’m sure I’ll have a couple of cries before tomorrow morning. But I think the good part about taking a decision on your own and doing it on your own terms is you’re very happy with what you’re doing. It is very important to believe,” said a tearful Mirza after calling time on her career.
Also on Court 3, defending Singles champion Jelena Ostapenko, the 13th seed, breezed into the Round of 16 with a ruthless dismantling of the Czech Republic’s Linda Fruhvirtova. The 13th seed needed only 54 minutes to notch up a near-flawless 6-2, 6-0 in victory.
After a short break, Ostapenko returned to Court 3 alongside Doubles partner Lyudmyla Kichenok where the pair faced Hungary’s Timea Babos and France’s Kristina Mladenovic for a place in the quarterfinals. Ostapenko, moving freely and hitting with menace, picked up where she left off against Fruhvirtova, and the second seeds eclipsed their rivals 6-1, 7-6 to move into the last eight.
Elsewhere, No. 8 seed and 2019 Dubai champion Belinda Bencic was just 40 seconds short of breaking the record for the longest match of the WTA season, which was set on Monday when Sorana Cirstea beat 11th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia in 3 hours 28 minutes. Playing on Court One, Bencic recovered from a set down to beat Marta Kostyuk 6-7 7-6 6-4.