Elise Mertens, the 10th seed, had to sweat for more than two and-a-half fours to claw her way into the semi-finals of Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Image Credit: Supplied photo

Dubai: Garbine Muguruza, the Spanish former world number one and a two-time grand slam winner, raliied to upset third seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 and make the semi-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Thursday.

Muguruza, a former winner here who is seeded No.9 this year, set up a meeting with 10th seed Elise Mertens of Belgium in the first women's semi-final at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium on Friday. The second semi-final will pit the unseeded Czech Barbora Krejcikova against the winner of the last quarter final of the evening between Coco Gauff of the US and Jil Teichmann, the in-form Spanish-born youngster from Switzerland.

Mertens and Krejcikova earlier advanced into the semi-finals in contrasting styles on Thursday. While Mertens had to sweat for two hours 47 minutes before emerging with a 5-7, 7-5, 6-0 victory over Jessica Pegula, Krejcikova took just 62 minutes to overwhelm tournament wild card Anastasia Potapova 6-0 6-2.

Little-known Krejcikova, who played only the 50th main draw match of her career in beating veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova to reach the quarter-finals, she has enjoyed outstanding success in doubles and in 2020 edition, she came tantalisingly close to winning the doubles title here, surrendering the final in a match tie-break.

She has triumphed in doubles at both Wimbledon and the French Open and this season she has already won the Gippsland Trophy, reached the final of the Australian Open and retained her mixed doubles title there while she was a doubles semi-finalist in Doha last week.

Perhaps drained by her struggle to overcome 2019 champion Belinda Bencic on Wednesday in a match that finished at 7-5 in the third set, Potapova was unable to offer much of a challenge to her more experienced opponent.


In a match of fluctuating fortunes, Pegula left it late to gain an advantage over Mertens in the first set, consistently struggling to hold serve. She needed seven minutes to hold in the opening game and when Mertens broke to lead 5-4, alarm bells rang. But Pegula not only broke at love to level at 5-5 but then took the 75-minute first set when Mertens double-faulted with Pegula leading 6-5.

The second set was also full of drama as Pegula led 5-2 and served for victory at 5-3 but was broken at love. She failed to take advantage of three match points on her opponent’s serve at 5-4. Mertens then broke to lead 6-5 and served out to level the match. A deflated Pegula then had little left to give in the final set.

“Although the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships has consistently attracted nearly every top player in the world, this is the 10th year in succession that at least one unseeded player has advanced to the semi-finals,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “This year, we are certain to have an unseeded player in Saturday’s final, underlining that no opponent can ever be taken lightly.”

The WTA 1000 tournament continues until Saturday and then will be followed by the equally exciting ATP event, headed by reigning US Open champion and world No.4 Dominic Thiem, who will be in competition for the title against 2021 Rotterdam champion and world number eight Andrey Rublev, three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka, 2020 US Open quarter-finalist Denis Shapovalov, 2018 Dubai champion Roberto Bautista Agut, 2021 Montpellier winner David Goffin and 2020 US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta.