Dubai: The Arab world’s best player Ons Jabeur dug in deep to send a higher-ranked Alison Riske packing 7-6, 1-6, 6-3 and then trained her sights on top seed Simona Halep at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday.
Ranked No. 18, Riske had not yet lost to any player outside the top 5 until she encountered the feisty world No. 45 Jabeur, who took her chances to sail through to a second-round meeting against top seed Halep. Last month, Jabeur became the first Arab woman to enter the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam, and it is this confidence that she wants to now ride against a top field here.
“It’s been an amazing experience for me at the Australian Open. I am here with a lot of confidence and with a little more experience than last year,” Jabeur said as she thanked the crowd.
“The crowd has been unbelievable and I was thrilled to see so many Tunisian flags here. Hopefully, the crowd will come tomorrow and cheer me on against another great player,” the 25-year-old added.
It was Riske who started on an aggressive note with a break in the very first game and held to lead 2-0. But the Tunisian fought back with a break in the fourth to draw level 2-2 till the set was ultimately decided 7-3 by tie-breaker in favour of Jabeur.
The second set too had a similar start, but this time Riske was more focused breaking her opponent in the second and fourth games to lead 5-0 before Jabeur took a medical time-off to patch a blister under her left foot even though the American won the set 6-1.
Egged on by a partisan Tunisian crowd, Jabeur got the crucial break in the eighth game of the deciding third to serve out set and match in two hours and 12 minutes.
Earlier, former finalist Barbora Strycova battled her way into the second round with a hard-fought 7-6, 2-6, 6-4 win over teenager Amanda Anisimova.
The 18-year-old American, who defeated defending champion and world No. 3 Simona Halep in straight sets to reach the 2019 French Open semi-finals, managed to turn things around winning the second set. But her 33-year-old opponent had too much experience as she nudged clear in the ninth and then broke one last time to take set and match in two hours and 34 minutes.
“It wasn’t really a great match from both sides,” Strycova admitted.
“It’s really tough conditions out there and the ball is flying everywhere. But I was really happy to keep the ball in the court. It was a really tough match for me and I’m very happy to be in the second round,” the Czech girl added.
In another match played on the side court, Qiang Wang - who produced one of the biggest upsets of the 2020 Australian Open while defeating Serena Williams in their third round encounter before losing to Jabeur - failed to advance beyond the first round after she was chased out 6-3, 6-0 by Belgian, Elise Mertens.
Mertens was in total control while winning the last ten games and dropping just a single point on serve in the second set to hustle out her Chinese opponent in exactly 62 minutes.
Barbora Strycova bt Amanda Anisimova 7-6, 2-6, 6-4
Elise Mertens bt Qiang Wang 6-3, 6-0
Ons Jabeur bt Alison Riske 6-3
Lyudmyla Kichenok/Nadiia Kichenok bt Darija Jurak/Yaroslava Shvedova 4-6, 6-2 1-0
Yingying Duan/Veronika Kudermetova bt Viktorija Golubic/Jil Teichmann 6-0, 6-1
Sofia Kenin/Bethanie Mattek-Sands bt Monique Adamczak/Yana Sizikova 6-0, 7-5
Makoto Ninomiya/Zhaoxuan Yang vs Julia Goerges/Simona Halep 6-2, 6-1
Kveta Peschke/Demi Schuurs bt Kirsten Flipkens/Alison Van Uytvanck 6-3, 6-1