Dubai: It was a day of the qualifiers as Isabella Shinikova and Ksenia Zaytseva knocked off the top two seeds at the 26th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge being played at the Habtoor Grand Resort, on Thursday.
Shinikova took an hour and 50 minutes to pack off top seed Viktoria Hruncakova 7-6 (5), 1-6, 6-3, while Zaytseva effortlessly sent the 2021 champion and former junior Wimbledon winner Daria Snigur back home 6-3, 6-2 in exactly one hour.
Minor slip up
In the day’s top attraction, Great Britain’s Heather Watson brushed off former multiple doubles Grand Slam champion Kristina Mladenovic 6-1, 6-2 to ensure a meeting with third seed Rebecca Sramkova.
Watson, the junior US Open champion in 2008, was ruthless in her approach throughout the 90 minutes on court against a French opponent, who can be crafty and smooth as displayed in Mladenovic’s win against former world No 2 Vera Zvonareva, on Tuesday.
But, the 31-year-old maintained her focus — and barring a minor slip up towards the end that resulted in four match points being saved by her opponent — Watson matched her Dubai record with a second quarter-final appearance here.
Anastasia Tikhonova took the final quarter-final slot on offer with a sturdy 7-6 (3), 6-4 win against Britain’s Emily Appleton. Tikhonova will now meet Yulia Hatouka in the last eight stages of the singles competition.
In the other quarter-finals, Shinikova will take on Nigina Abduraimova and Tikhonova will face off against Hatouka in the upper half of the draw, while Watson will run into hard-hitting third seed Rebecca Sramkova and Zaytseva will be up against Arianne Hartono from the Netherlands.
Super aggressive show
“I am really, really happy with this win. I think I played really well from the beginning to the end to get the job done. That first game went on for a good 12 minutes of intense tennis, and I think I did well to keep my concentration intact,” Watson said.
“To her credit, Kiki [Mladenovic] stepped up her level towards the end of the second set. That’s the best tennis we got to witness. It wasn’t that I did anything wrong. It is just that she was super aggressive. So, I really didn’t have to do anything different. I had to just hang in there and play my game to go through.”
Shinikova, who upset the top seed, has vowed to improve on her performance. “Honestly, I didn’t expect to do so well. But I knew I had to give it everything if I wanted to get past her. I am sure my best is yet to come,” Shinikova added.
Zaytseva, who also came through the qualifiers, was happy to be among the last eight in the singles. “The idea this week is to just go out there and enjoy my game. I think today I just served well and I pushed her, and things got hard for her [Snigur] as the match progressed,” Zaytseva said.
Hruncakova-Zvonareva in semis
“I just need to take it one match at a time and learn to enjoy the moment. Next up is Cristina [Hartono] and I think I will go out there and give it my best shot,” she added.
Meanwhile in the doubles, the second-seeded pair of Viktoria Hruncakova and Vera Zvonareva brushed off Stefania Bojica and Ekaterina Yashina 6-1, 6-0 to ease into the semi-finals to set up a meeting with the British duo of Olivia Nicholls and Heather Watson.
And in the last match of the day, multiple Grand Slam champions Timea Babos and Vera Zvonareva also booked their place in the semi-finals with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Elena Pridankina and Ksenia Zaytseva and earned the right to meet Prarthana G Thombare and Anastasia Kovaleva in today’s semi-final.
Singles: Ksenia Zaytseva bt Daria Snigur 6-3, 6-2; Isabella Shinikova bt Viktoria Hruncakova 76 (5), 1-6, 6-3; Heather Watson bt Kristina Mladenovic 6-1, 6-2; Anastasia Tikhonovo bt Emily Appleton 7-6 (3), 6-4.
Doubles: Viktoria Hruncakova/Dalila Jakupovic bt Stefania Bojica/Ekaterina Yashina 6-1, 6-0; Timea Babos/Vera Zvonareva bt Elena Pridankina/Ksenia Zaytseva 6-4, 6-7 (6), 11-9.