Karolina Pliskova in action in Dubai
Karolina Pliskova in action in Dubai Image Credit: Supplied
Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Second seed Karolina Pliskova had to battle for more than two hours on Tuesday before overcoming Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 to reach the third round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Former champion Belinda Bencic was also stretched to the limit, needing two hours, 38 minutes to overcome Veronika Kudermetova 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, but third seed Aryna Sabalenka was able to ease past former finalist Alize Cornet 6-2, 6-4.

Pliskova has claimed at least one title every year since 2013, and was only just foiled in adding Dubai to her list of triumphs when she finished as runner-up to Simona Halep in 2015. Playing in the main draw in Dubai for the eighth time, few matches here could have been more frustrating than her tussle with Sevastova.

She had to fight off two break points as she served out the first set, and then was denied victory in the second set when the ball clipped the net on one of her two match points to give her opponent a reprieve. She led the tiebreak 4-1 but lost it 7-5 to take the match into a deciding set, which she claimed on her third match point.

“I had a lot of chances, especially in the second set,” said Pliskova. “I was match points up in the tiebreak on my serve and I thought I could win much faster. On the other hand, I don’t have to go and practise because if I won in straight sets I would have to go! So that’s good, and it gave me strength that I was able to fight back after that unfortunate second set and still play quite good tennis after that.”

Bencic, who is seeking her second Dubai title following her victory in 2019, struggled to close out her match against Kudermetova. In a nail-biting final game, she faced a break point for 5-5 and was taken to deuce four times before eventually closing out victory on her fourth match point.

“I’m just happy that I managed to stay calm in the end,” said Bencic. “In the important moments I kept telling myself this is normal, this is how it goes sometimes and you just have to go the long way, and I’m really happy how I handled that mentally.”

“We could not have wished for better entertainment,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice-Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “Several of those who emerged as the winner had to dig very deep to advance to the next round, and those whose day ended in disappointment can nevertheless be proud of the effort they gave and we wish them well in the future.”

Coco Gauff made it through to the third round in Dubai
Coco Gauff made it through to the third round in Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

Gauff shows grit

In yet another three-set struggle, Coco Gauff took just under two hours to upset 12th seed Marketa Vondrousova 3-6, 6-0, 6-4 and keep alive her dream of playing in the final on her 17th birthday on Saturday.

“I thought I played well. I’m just staying in there fighting every point, to be honest,” said Gauff, who has been taken to three sets in her last seven matches, winning six. “Today she started off strong and I was making errors but I found my rhythm in the second and third sets.”

In other matches and in the tournament’s biggest upset so far, qualifier Tereza Martincova defeated fifth seed Kiki Bertens 6-1, 6-4. Madison Keys, seeded 11, was also upset 6-4, 6-3 by tournament wild card Anastasia Potapova as she struggles to get back into her stride following a positive Covid test that prevented her from playing the Australian Open, and Jessica Pegula beat Kristina Mladenovic 6-1, 6-2.

“We have seen yet again how strong the competition is at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, with Karolina Pliskova and Belinda Bencic both facing such fierce challenges and our fifth seed failing to win her opening match,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “Nobody can take their opponent lightly and we are certain to see many more thrills as the week progresses.”