Dubai: Former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova became the biggest casualty on the third day after being dumped 6-2, 6-4 by Russian qualifier Anastasia Gasanova at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open on Saturday.
But second seed Elina Svitolina, fifth seed Garbine Muguruza and No. 6 Elena Rybakina had no issues as they coasted through their matches to complete the Round of 16 line-up that is scheduled to be held on Sunday. Top seed Sofia Kenin and No. 4 Aryna Sabalenka had already booked their spots the previous day.
Svitolina was at her comfortable best in a 6-4, 6-1 win over Vera Zvonareva, while Muguruza was equally dominant in her 6-1, 6-4 win over Aliaksandra Sasnovich after sixth seed and 2020 Dubai Open runner-up Rybakina had coasted through to a 6-4, 6-4 win against China’s Xiyu Wang earlier in the morning.
Gasanova, whose goal is to break into the top-200 this year, took just 72 minutes for her win against the world No. 6 Pliskova.
“This is the best I have ever played. I am an angry person on court, but I am kind when I am off the court. Playing and winning is above everything to me,” Gasanova said.
Tennis came early in Gasanova’s career after her mother, who still doubles up as coach and travelling partner most of the times, took her to her to a court when she was just six. “I fell in love with tennis. I loved everything about it, and there was no looking back for me,” she admitted while giggling all the way.
“I started playing when I was born and my first professional training was when I was six. I was born for tennis. I like hard courts more than clay courts. Back home in Russia, half of the year is winter and I am always practicing indoors. Here the courts are pretty fast, and I like the conditions. To play against a top-10 player is a great opportunity for me, and for sure, I am going to gain a lot from this experience.”
Figuring in her first-ever match against a top 100 player, the 292nd-ranked Gasanova extended her breakthrough week on the WTA in the UAE capital, where the 21-year-old Russian will face Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo for a spot in the quarter-finals on Sunday.
“Yes, I am really surprised about today’s result. When I woke up this morning, I told myself ‘Why can’t I win? What if she is a much better player?’” she admitted full of emotion at such a massive win. “Initially when I landed in Abu Dhabi, I had thought I would lose in qualifiers itself. But here we are.”
Earlier during the week, Gasanova had made her WTA main draw debut with her first Tour-level victory in the first round while overcoming former top-25 player, Mona Barthel.
But her 72-minute win over Pliskova on Saturday came in brand new territory for Gasanova as it was the Russian’s first-ever match against a player ranked inside the top-100, let alone the top-10.
Meanwhile, second seed Svitolina took just 68 minutes to ease past former World No. 2 Zvonareva 6-4, 6-1, to set a meeting with 17th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, while fifth seed Muguruza ousted Sasnovich of Belarus 6-1, 6-4 to line up ninth seed Maria Sakkari of Greece on Sunday.
“Now that I have won a second match, the intention is to do my best and compete at a high level,” Svitolina said. “And those will be pretty much the same goals for me moving forward in this season.”
Muguruza, a second former World No. 1 has had success at Middle East events after making back-to-back quarter-finals in Dubai and Doha in 2020. The two-time Grand Slam champion from Spain picked up another match win in the region while beating World No. 90 Sasnovich in just 77 minutes.
“I am happy with the way things are going for me. It has been a long time since my last match. This is my first tournament after a really long time and things can be tricky as I get my rhythm. And that exactly is the idea for me to get more matches and the rhythm while being on the court for those extra hours,” she said. “I have done a good preseason, but practice is practice. Honestly, I don’t have great expectations from this tournament other than putting in those hours on court. The next big one for me will be the Australian Open and I need to get that feeling of playing in a big one.”
Elena Rybakina bt Xiyu Wang 6-4, 6-4
Marta Kostyuk bt Su-wei Hsieh 6-3, 6-7, 6-3
Anastasia Gasanova bt Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 6-4
 Elina Svitolina bt Vera Zvonareva 6-4, 6-1
 Garbine Muguruza bt Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-1, 6-4
 Ekaterina Alexandrova (RUS) bt Heather Watson 7-5, 6-7, 6-3
 Maria Sakkari (GRE) bt Coco Gauff (USA) 7-5, 6-2
Daria Kasatkina bt  Karolina Muchova (walkover).
Veronika Kudermetova/Anastasia Potapova bt Nicole Melichar/Demi Schuurs 6-2, 6-2
Arantxa Rus/Tamara Zidansek bt Jasmine Paolini/Martina Trevisan 7-6, 6-3
Su-wei Hsieh/Barbora Krejcikova vs Sharon Fichman/Giuliana Olmos 6-2, 3-6, 1-0
Sofia Kenin/Ajla Tomljanovic bt Yifan Xu/Zhaoxuan Yang 6-2, 6-4
Hayley Carter/Luisa Stefani bt Daria Kasatkina/Anett Kontaveit 6-3, 6-4
Laura Siegemund/Vera Zvonareva vs Sara Sorribes Tormo/Nadia Podoroska 6-4, 2-6, 1-0