Dubai: Former world No. 1 and top seed Simona Halep dug her way out of the pit with a 1-6, 6-2, 7-6 win over Arab region’s best player Ons Jabeur as the quarter-final line-up of the Dubai Duty Free Women’s Open was nearly finalised late on Wednesday.
Coached by Dubai-based Tunisian Davis Cup player Issam Jallali, the 25-year-old Jabeur was ruthless against her more fancied opponent, currently ranked No. 2 as she came out firing all cylinders. Egged on by a near-full Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, the lone former champion from the three who entered this week, just stuck to a game plan and hung in there before escaping with a memorable win on centre court.
“I think I was a little bit lucky there,” Halep told fans later.
“It was a tough match and I know she is a really tough player. I had to give everything I had and I am proud that I was able to fight till the end,” the Romanian added.
“In the end I don’t know how I could finish that in a right way. But it was up-and-down a lot because she doesn’t give rhythm. It was very weird, but happy I could win. The atmosphere was like a football match or a Fed Cup match. I didn’t really realise what is going on on-court. Everyone was with a lot of energy so we had to give our best. I think it was a great match.”
Halep’s opponent in Thursday’s quarter-finals will be seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka after the Belarussian got past Belgium’s Elise Mertens 6-4, 6-3. “She [Sabalenka] is going to be yet another strong opponent. But I know that I need to play my own game and believe that I can win this one as well,” Halep said.
After a meek surrender in the opening set that lasted just 25 minutes, Halep turned the tables in the second with a break in the second (2-0) and then came up with a solid service game to go 3-0 clear. The former world number one maintained the pressure and led 4-1. But, Jabeur started easing out on her rash shots and stuck on her returns to break back (2-5), only to see Halep come with yet another break and draw level 6-2.
The Romanian called for a medical timeout to tend to her lower back and started off with a double fault that, in fact, proved beneficial as she held in between a break to lead the No. 45 Jabeur 3-0. As Jabeur displayed signs of tiredness, Halep grew in confidence, but only for that moment as the Tunisian broke back in the seventh for 3-4 and then held for 4-4 to force a tiebreak.
Halep was in the clear at 6-2, but Jabeur displayed some amazing capacity for shot-making to draw level at 6-6 till Halep’s experience showed and the Romanian won the decider 9-7.
Earlier in the day, Karolina Pliskova and Garbine Muguruza stemmed the rot after Tuesday’s carnage of seeds even as Elena Rybakina continued to roll into the singles quarter-finals.
Making her seventh main draw appearance during which her best was a runners-up spot when she lost to Simona Halep in 2015, Pliskova brushed aside qualifier Kristina Mladenovic 6-1, 6-2 in a little over one hour.
Australian Open losing finalist Muguruza, who had survived a battling former world number one Kim Clijsters on the opening night, had to dig in even deeper for a 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 win over Dubai main draw debutant Veronika Kudermetova in nearly two-and-a-half hours.
Losing finalist at last weekend’s St Petersburg Open, the 20-year-old Rybakina — who famously packed off Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin on Tuesday — continued her fine form with a smooth 6-3, 6-3 win over Czech qualifier Katerina Siniakova.
(Singles) Karolina Pliskova bt Kristina Mladenovic 6-1, 6-2; Jennifer Brady bt Marketa Vondrousova 4-6, 6-4, 6-1; Garbine Muguruza bt Veronika Kudermetova 7-5, 4-6, 6-4; Petra Martic bt Barbora Strycova 6-3, 6-3; Elena Rybakina vs Katerina Siniakova 6-3, 6-3; Simona Halep bt Ons Jabeur 1-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7); Aryna Sabalenka bt Elise Mertens 6-4, 6-3.