DUBAI: 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.
While the tournament is taking place without a live audiences, the win by the 26-year-old Tunisian, ranked 31 in the WTA rankings, will delight her growing fanbase in the Middle East.
Jabeur 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.
“I’m happy with the win today,” said Jabeur. “I’m playing good. I like the conditions here, so hopefully will continue this way. I put pressure on myself because I want to win so bad. I am trying to take it like easy, whatever happens. I’m just trying to take it one day at a time.”
Jabeur was untroubled by her opponent, who had reached the final of an ITF tournament in Dubai in December and contested the Australian Open doubles final last month. The Tunisian showed no sign of nerves as she deals with the expectations that come with her position as a leader of Arab women in sport.
“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.”
Gauff’s battle with Alexandrova stretched to two hours 41 minutes. Gruff 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 her opponent battled 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.
“There were times where we both could have thrown in the towel and given 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 has lost no less than three singles finals and a remarkable four consecutive doubles finals.
Wang, who created headlines when she defeated Serena Williams in 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.
“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 breathtaking, and there will no doubt be many more exciting battles in the days ahead.”
The WTA 1000 tournament continues until March 13 and will be followed between March 14 and 20 by the ATP event, headed by reigning US Open champion and world number four Dominic Thiem.