DUBAI: Jelena Ostapenko walked a tightrope to victory at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Thursday, scrambling her way to a 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 win over former champion Petra Kvitova.
She will now face 2015 and 2020 champion Simona Halep, who ended the hopes of eighth seed Ons Jabeur by winning 6-4, 6-3.
The second semifinal will feature Veronika Kudermetova who beat Jil Teichmann 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 in another lengthy battle, and qualifier Marketa Vondrousova, who defeated Dayana Yastremska 7-5, 6-4.
Vondrousova is only the third qualifier to reach the semifinals, after Rachel McQuillan in 2001 and Jennifer Brady in 2020 and, at 146th, Yastremska is the lowest-ranked player to ever reach the Dubai quarterfinals.
Ostapenko, who also reached the semifinals in St. Petersburg last week, twice faced elimination as the outcome remained in doubt right up until the final ball of the two-hour, 39-minute contest.
Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman and chief executive officer of Dubai Duty Free, said: “The intense battle between Jelena Ostapenko and Petra Kvitova left us breathless, and we were on the edge of our seats as the momentum swung first one way and then the other.
“The other quarterfinals also provided wonderful entertainment, and we congratulate all today’s winners and eagerly look forward to discovering who will qualify for Saturday’s final.”
After a blistering start in which she held a point to lead 5-1, Ostapenko saw Kvitova fight back to snatch the opening set. In the second set, Kvitova broke to lead 1-0 and Ostapenko continued to struggle on her serve, at one stage clutching her hip as it appeared that her long second-round match was taking its toll on her.
But then, serving at 5-4 and after being two points from victory, Kvitova double faulted to allow her opponent to level at 5-5, and Ostapenko completed her recovery by breaking again for the set. After exchanging early breaks in the third, Kvitova broke to lead 5-4 but again failed to serve out the match and in a marathon tiebreak Kvitova held a match point at 8-7 before Ostapenko claimed victory on her fourth match point, winning the tiebreak 11-9.
Ostapenko, who has now defeated three former Grand Slam winners this week, said: “It was a really good match. I think the level was really high. She was playing really well today. She was especially serving well. I was trying just to fight and stay in the match, believe that I can win until the very last point. I just knew I have to fight.”
Halep had to fight hard too for her victory in a contest that showcased exquisite skills from both players. Although she built a 5-2 lead Halep struggled to close out the set against a resilient opponent, double faulting on break point while under pressure as she served at 5-3 but earning her third and decisive break of the set in the next game.
Jabeur responded by taking a 2-0 lead in the second set, but Halep fought back to win the next five games to lead 5-2 before closing out the match.
Halep said: “I’m really pleased with the match. I think I played good tennis. I was super strong on the legs. I knew that she’s changing the rhythm a lot. It’s never easy to actually find the rhythm during the match. I think I did well and I’m really happy that I could win against a tough opponent.”
Jabeur felt her fitness was not back to the level she would like after an injury kept her out of the Australian Open, but she was able to take some positives from the week.
“I think, I mean, physically I’m trying to come back. It’s not easy to not be 100 percent with Simona playing at this level,” she said.
“So, yeah, I think the main key for me was physically I think I wasn’t strong enough on my legs. Breathing-wise, moving-wise was not so good. Yeah, she was much better than me. I mean, it’s completely normal. I understand. I just want to keep positive. I don’t like to lose like this, but it was my first tournament after injury, so I really am glad that I at least won two matches here.”
Tournament director, Salah Tahlak, said: “Although only one seed was able to reach the quarterfinals this week, today’s fantastic battle between Jelena Ostapenko and Petra Kvitova between two unseeded players could not have provided greater entertainment.
“Simona Halep and Ons Jabeur also produced some wonderful tennis, and we also congratulate Veronika Kudermetova and Marketa Vondrousova on reaching the semifinals.”
The Women’s Tennis Association event continues until Feb. 19, and then between Feb. 21 and 26 the tournament celebrates the 30th anniversary of the ATP Tour 500 tournament when world No. 1 Novak Djokovic will be bidding for his sixth Dubai title.