The 2023 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships got off to a blistering start under Sunday sunshine, as two stalwarts of the women’s game came out firing on all cylinders inside the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium.
Opening proceedings on the emirate’s famed Centre Court, Madison Keys recorded a comfortable firstround victory over Italian opponent Jasmine Paolini.
The American, now ranked World No.23, showed glimpses of the form that once saw her rise as high as World No.7, secure six WTA singles titles, and reach the final of the 2017 US Open.
Making her second appearance in Dubai’s annual WTA 1000 event, Keys broke Paolini’s serve in the second game of the match and never looked back, taking the first set 6-1.
The second set followed a similar pattern, with Keys breaking serve early and racing through the remainder of the set, before serving out with ace to seal a 6-1, 6-1 victory and setting up a second-round match with fourth-seed Caroline Garcia.
“I was little nervous at the beginning, but I got off to a really good start and never looked back,” said Keys. “It’s good to get that first win, so we can now look forward.”
On her second-round showdown with Garcia, against whom she has a 3-1 head-to-head winning record, Keys added: “She’s a really tough opponent and it’s always a really good match against her, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
In game two on the show court, 12th seed Petra Kvitova, the 2013 Dubai champion and one of six Grand Slam winners taking part this week, rolled back the years with an impressive dismissal of Italy’s World No.25 Martina Trevisan 6-2, 6-1. Kvitova and Trevisan tussled it out in the opening exchanges as the afternoon Dubai wind swirled overhead, before Kvitova, also a runner-up in Dubai in 2019, broke her opponent’s serve in game four.
Trevisan broke back in game seven, but Kvitova held firm to take the first set 6-2. Czech star Kvitova, a Wimbledon champion in 2011 and 2014, broke Trevisan again in game two of the second set before displaying all her power and experience to complete a comprehensive 6-2, 6-1 victory in a little more than an hour.
After a winning start to her 10th Dubai appearance, Kvitova said: “It’s not usually that windy in Dubai, usually just in Doha, but I guess I had decent preparation there last week. The beginning of the match wasn’t easy, and I struggled with the wind a little, but I tried to play a little bit easier and I’m glad I got the win. You see the field here, everyone is playing, there’s a lot of quality as always. We’ll see how things go, but it’s amazing to be playing here.”
Elsewhere, qualifier Dayana Yastremska continued her fine form with a straight-sets victory over French opponent Alize Cornet, a Dubai finalist in 2014 and quarterfinalist at the 2022 Australian Open.
Yastremska, a winner of three WTA singles titles, turned on the power to see off Cornet 6-2, 6-3 on Court 3 to secure a second-round spot.
In the last match of the afternoon session on Centre Court, No.13 seed Liudmila Samsonova produced a battling performance in a marathon match to secure victory over Dubai resident Paula Badosa.
Samsonova dug deep to save set point on her own serve in game 10 with a cute drop volley and survived a further two set points.
After more than an hour’s play, the first set was decided in a tiebreak, with Spaniard Badosa, cheered on by a vocal ‘home’ crowd, recovering from 3-0 down to take seven straight points and seal the tiebreak.
In set two, Badosa broke her opponent to take a 4-3 lead, but Samsonova broke straight back, and the second set again went to a tiebreak.
This time, while Badosa raced into a 2-0 lead, it was Samsonova who recovered and claimed the tiebreak 8-6 to take the match to a deciding third set.
Samsonova took a decisive break of serve in game seven in the final set, then served out game 10 to seal a 6-7 (3), 7-6 (6), 6-4 victory after three hours and 22 minutes on court.
“It was a pretty long match,” said a delighted Samsonova after her victory. “Paula is always really tough to play, she digs deep, so I’m glad that I was able to hang in until the end. I think I’m growing match-bymatch. It’s a long journey and I hope to continue like that.”