Dubai: Sorana Cirstea was the first player to reach the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday when she defeated Sloane Stephens 5-7 6-3 6-2.
Stephens, who sensationally beat Serena Williams at the Australian Open last month, held the upper hand through much of the first set but struggled to close it out.
After being unable to convert three earlier break points, the American teenager finally broke to lead 5-4, but she then failed to serve out the set after leading 40-0. She then broke Cirstea again, but Stephens had to fight off two break points to win the set.
Gaining confidence from her lead, Stephens then broke Cirstea’s serve in the opening game of the second set. But she was unable to maintain her advantage as Cirstea broke back to level at 3-3 and then again for 5-3 before taking the set on her third set point.
In the final set, Stephens again failed to make the most of her chances as Cirstea fought off two break points to hold for 1-1 and then broke to lead 2-1. And although the Romanian double-faulted to allow Stephens to level at 2-2, she then swept the next four games to claim victory.
Later on Monday, world number 11 Marion Bartoli was meeting Klara Zakopalova for the right to meet new world number one Serena Williams in the next round, and former world number one and French Open champion Ana Ivanovic was playing one-time junior world champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
The second round of the event features eight of the world’s top 10 players. In addition to Williams, the Wimbledon, US Open and Olympic champion, the tournament features Australian Open and Doha winner Victoria Azarenka, 2011 Dubai champion Caroline Wozniacki, defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska, 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur, 2011 Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova, Italian number one Sara Errani and top German Angelique Kerber.
Earlier, two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova justified her wild-card entry for the qualifying as she battled past Spaniard Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 to book one of four spots in the main draw on Monday.
A former losing finalist in Dubai – she went down in 2008 in three sets to Elena Dementieva – Kuznetsova will be joined by Urszula Radwanska, Jie Zheng and Daniela Hantuchova in the main draw that got under way on Monday.
Winner of the 2004 US Open and then the 2009 French Open, Kuznetsova showed early control as she took the opening set 6-2. But the crafty Spaniard mixed her game up well in the second set to level matters after winning 6-4.
Kuznetsova, though, did well in the decider as she broke in the second and fourth games for a 4-0 cushion. But Medina Garrigues registered a break in the fifth only to see the Russian ease through for a third break and then held serve to win set and match.
Urszula Radwanska, China’s Zheng and Hantuchova from Slovakia were the other three players making it to the main draw of the competition.
Radwanska was an easy 6-3, 6-3 win against Japan’s Kurumi Nara, Hantuchova eased past Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2, 6-2 and Zheng battled past Ekaterina Bychkova 6-1, 2-6, 7-5.