Dubai: The quarter-final line-up fell into place with 2020 Dubai Duty Free Women’s Open runner-up Elena Rybakina leading three of the top four seeds, although in contrasting styles, at the season-opening Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open, on Sunday.
Rybakina continued her fine form of 2020 making light work of Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 6-4, while running into Aryna Sabalenka in Monday’s quarter-finals, after the fourth-seed had skipped past World No.31 and 15th seed, Ons Jabeur 6-2, 6-4.
The story of the evening was top seed Sofia Kenin surviving a scare and managing a last-ditch dramatic turnaround saving a match point to win 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 over No.13 seed Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.
In the first meeting between the pair, 28th-ranked Putintseva was one point away from a straight-set victory at 6-3, 6-5, but World No.4 Kenin woke up at that juncture, eventually gritting out a marathon 2.41-hour win and deny Putintseva her fifth career win over a top-5 player.
Kenin will now run into ninth seed Maria Sakkari after the Greek girl made her way past fifth seed Garbine Muguruza 7-5, 6-4 after Marta Kostyuk became the second Ukrainian in the last eight with an easy 6-1, 6-1 win against Tamara Zidansek.
Losing in three sets to Simona Halep in last year’s Dubai final, Rybakina has tried to make up for lost time while doing her pre-season spending for the last two months right here. That seems to be paying dividends as the 21-year-old from Kazakhstan has stormed to a second successive strong start to a season following her 2020 debut where she made four finals in the first two months of 2020.
Rybakina made one more final after the tour resumed while losing in three tough sets to Elina Svitolina on clay in Strasbourg. Although looking sharp, Rybakina admitted she is not at her best as yet. “I am not sure if I can be pleased with the start to the season. I will be looking at improving in every match,” she told media following her win in 68 minutes, on Sunday.
“I am not sure if there has been progress, but my game is getting better and better. The goal at the moment is to look at improving with every match. Hopefully, soon I will be at my best slowly,” she hoped.
Later in the night, second seed Elina Svitlona claimed a nervy final set tie-break to overcome a large-hearted effort from 17th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova and be the last one to book her quarter-final spot against Veronika Kudermetova, after the Russian had grinded her way to a 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 win over Paula Badosa.
Svitolina had to come back from 3-5 down in the final set, saving two match points during the final-set tie-break before clinching the well-earned victory after two hours and 25 minutes of high-quality tennis from both. The contest was a re-match of their third-round at Roland Garros last year, that Svitolina had won in straight sets.
“It was important for me to relax and realise this feeling that I have earned the win,” Svitolina said.
“I will need to sit with my coach and chart out a gameplan to tackle my next opponent [Kudermetova],” she added.
Earlier, Kostyuk took less than an hour to flay Slovenian Zidansek 6-1, 6-1 and become the first one to book a quarter-final spot, where she will now meet Spaniard Sorribes-Tormo – a 7-5, 6-3 winner against qualifier Anastasia Gasanova.
“The dea going forward is to keep playing my game as this works for me. I shouldn’t e afraid and I must stay aggressive. I am on the right path and perhaps, I have to change with time and if the moment needs it,” Kostyuk related.
“I don’t think I made any major adjustments playing her [Gasanova] as I went on attack mode and it was a winner. We had much shorter match although the ending was a bit shaky. But I am happy everything worked out in the end,” she said.
“Obviously, the wins give me a good start to the season and something to build on for this year. I hope will be consistent,” Kostyuk hoped.
Sabalenka exacted sweet revenge for her loss to Jabeur while extending her winning streak to 12 matches. At World No.31, Jabeur had won when the two had met at Roland Garros last year. But on Sunday, Sabalenka won the first set 6-2, and then used her court craft to win the match in 68 minutes to bump into Rybakina on Monday.
“I didn’t give her [Jabeur] any time to play. I needed this win. It was tricky tennis and this was the key to my win,” Sabalenka disclosed.
(Singles)  Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) bt  Ons Jabeur (TUN) 6-2, 6-4;  Elena Rybakina (KAZ) bt Daria Kasatkina (RUS) 6-3, 6-4; Marta Kostyuk (UKR) bt Tamara Zidansek (SLO) 6-1, 6-1; Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) bt [Q] Anastasia Gasanova (RUS) 7-5, 6-3;  Maria Sakkari (GRE) bt  Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP) 7-5, 6-4;  Sofia Kenin (USA) bt  Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4; Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) bt Paula Badosa (ESP) 6-4, 4-6, 6-1;   Elina Svitolina (UKR) bt Ekaterina Alexandrova (RUS) 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (8).
(Doubles)  Hayley Carter (USA)/Luisa Stefani (BRA) bt Veronika Kudermetova (RUS)/Anastasia Potapova (RUS) 4-6, 6-3, 1-0 (4).