Zhu Lin of China in action against Elise Mertens of Belgium during their first round match of Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday, 18th February 2019. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Elise Mertens’s red hot run was cut short by gutsy qualifier Lin Zhu as the Chinese earned a well-contested 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 win as former champion Caroline Wozniacki pulled out at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday.

Mertens, who secured her biggest career title with the Qatar Open in Doha on Saturday, took her time to settle in before taking the opening set 7-5 against an opponent ranked 87 spots below her. Making her third appearance in Dubai, the 23-year-old who was seeking to become only the third to win Dubai and Doha in the same year (after Martina Hingis in 2001 and Justine Henin in 2007), couldn’t handle Lin’s array of fearless shots as she lost the next two sets.

Coming through qualifying seemed to help Zhu as the 25-year-old Chinese broke early, but once Mertens had got her eye in, she secured two successive breaks in the ninth and eleventh to serve the set out 7-5 in 51 minutes. The second was an opposite with the 25-year-old Chinese winning it in more than an hour of intense shot-making on centre court.

Mertens had an early break in the decider, but her Chinese opponent came roaring back to finish off the match in nearly three hours, setting up a second-round meeting with Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko on Tuesday. Lin applauded Mertens as the Belgian walked off court with his face buried in her towel.

“This is by far the biggest win of my career,” the 25-year-old told a cheering centre court. “I am so tired, but very happy with what I have achieved. I think the key for me was to keep my focus and think positive even when I was down. This is by far the best win for me in my career.”

Earlier, the tournament lost one of its stars following the late withdrawal of 2011 champion Wozniacki due to a “viral illness”. The 2011 champion, who had showed signs of battling the illness while attending Saturday’s draw ceremony, was one of the big names to slip away from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday.

Wozniacki’s withdrawal was announced late on Monday. The former world number one from Denmark was replaced by lucky loser Polona Hercog, who went on to lose in straight sets to another lucky loser Stefanie Voegele.

Meanwhile, Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur was the lone Arab player left in the draw after she overcame a tough challenge from Donna Vekic for a 6-4, 7-6 win, thus booking a meeting with defending two-time champion Elina Svitolina.

The Ukrainian sixth seed won’t be taking this second-round clash lightly especially after Jabeur’s display of making it to the final in Moscow at the end of 2018 after defeating world No 8 and former US Open winner Sloane Stephens and then falling in three sets to 2018 Dubai runner-up Daria Kasatkina.

Jabeur’s victory on Monday was especially sweet, especially after being beaten by Vekic in Beijing last year.

“I am really happy with this win, especially when we played last year in Beijing, I was really close,” she said. “I’m happy that I saved two set points. This time it [was] meant to be for me.”

In other matches, Alison Riske beat 13th seed and former finalist Julia Goerges 6-4, 7-5 to set up a second-round match against another former finalist Alize Cornet. American qualifier Jennifer Brady marked her main draw debut with a 6-4, 6-0 win over Jelena Ostapenko while Shuai Zhang defeated 15th seed Anett Kontaveit 7-6, 6-3. Lucky loser Dalila Jakupovic will face fifth seed Angelique Kerber after overcoming qualifier Zarina Diyas 1-6, 6-1, 6-2.