Two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza held off a solid challenge from qualifier Irina-Camelia Begu on Monday to win 6-3 7-5 and move into the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Muguruza, who reached the Dubai semi-finals in 2015 and 2018, has earned more wins than any other player on the WTA Tour this year, and she arrived in Dubai after competing in the Doha final, where she fell to Petra Kivitova.
“It was definitely a challenge because it’s very different conditions (from Doha),” said Muguruza. “I fought as much as I could and I could close the match in two sets. I’m happy that I made it and feel like I’m getting into the tournament.”
Although she was unable to dominate her enterprising opponent, the number nine seed was not threatened until late in the second set, when Begu established a lead and served for the set at 5-3. Muguruza though fought back to claim the next four games and a place in the next round.
“It is never easy to begin a tournament so soon after competing in the final of another, but Garbine Muguruza impressed us with the way she adapted and dealt with a difficult opponent,” said Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “This is her seventh appearance here and it is a pleasure to welcome her back.”
Elena Rybakina, who reached the Dubai final last year before losing to Simona Halep, also overcame a second set fightback by Saisai Zheng, winning 6-0 6-4, and she was joined there by Madison Keys, who marked her Dubai debut by taking just 64 minutes to claim a 6-1 6-1 victory over qualifier En-Shuo Liang.
Rybakina enjoyed an incredible start to last season, reaching four finals in her first five tournaments and winning Hobart before her momentum was halted by the Covid-19 pandemic. She came desperately close to claiming the Dubai title, upsetting recently crowned Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and world number three Karolina Pliskova to reach the final, where in one of the most thrilling contests on the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium centre court she came within two points of victory in a nail-biting final set tiebreak.
After giving up just five points on serve in the opening set, Rybakina appeared to be coasting to a comfortable victory as she broke to lead 3-1 in the second. But her opponent then began to offer a solid challenge and Rybakina was relieved to close out the match in straight sets.
“Overall, I thought I played not a bad match,” said Rybakina. “I’m happy to come here again. It’s a pity there are not the crowds here like before, but I’ll try to do my best this week.”
Keys tested positive for Covid-19 in January and, instead of flying to compete at the Australian Open, she was forced to self-isolate at home. As a result, the only tournament she has competed in since playing at the French Open in September is last week’s Doha event, where she defeated 2019 Dubai champion Belinda Bencic before falling in the second round to Maria Sakkari.
There were no signs of rust as she swept past Liang, and although she faced seven break points, she fought off every one to secure a comfortable victory.
“I feel good about today,” said Keys. “I played a really clean first set, and in the second set I had some break points against me but I thought I handled them pretty well and kept the momentum. It’s been tough. I definitely feel a little bit behind compared to everyone else, but I know if I keep working at what I’ve been practising and try and implement that in matches then more matches will come.”
“There have been many extremely competitive performances today,” said tournament director Salah Tahlak. “No one is certain of victory, and that was demonstrated when former world number one and triple Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber was beaten by Caroline Garcia. It is impossible to predict who will finish as our 2021 champion on Saturday.”