Dubai: Top seed and tournament favourite Kristina Mladenovic and Great Britain’s Heather Watson secured almost identical wins to advance to the second round of the 23rd Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge (AHTC) at the Habtoor Grand Beach Resort and Spa on Tuesday.
A multiple Grand Slam champion in doubles, French girl Mladenovic overcame a late hiccup to get the better of Poland’s Magdalena Frech 6-4, 7-5 in a little over two hours while Watson fought off a resilient friend Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia before winning 6-0, 7-6 (3) in 88 minutes.
“It was very important for me to simply be playing here in my home and go through a tough first round match. It’s been a tough year for everyone all over the world and I am simply so happy to be playing competitive tennis again after such a long break,” Mladenovic told Gulf News.
“Our bodies are used to training, travelling and playing all over the world. This long break didn’t help at all but the good thing is that we are back to doing what we are supposed to do as professional athletes. Now the next step will be to find the rhythm all over again,” she stressed.
A semi-finalist here last year as the top seed, Mladenovic looked in total control in easing through the opening set 6-4 with a break in the ninth in 57 minutes. Then she seemed to lose her focus serving for the match as she fought back to draw level 5-5 in the second set. Luckily, Mladenovic held her nerves when it mattered most and broke her Polish opponent in the eleventh to serve out for set and match in two hours and five minutes.
“Truly happy about this performance. Of course, things could have been better, but this is what it is and I hope to find my rhythm back soon,” Mladenovic said.
“This is a good tournament for players to use the off-season and prepare for the year ahead. Last year the field was strong and this year it’s even stronger. We couldn’t have asked for a better preparation heading into 2021,” she added.
In the day’s other match, Watson was up and going early as she won the opener 6-0, and then suddenly saw her opponent – a long-time fellow player since her junior days on the ITF – fight back in the second set. The set went the distance and eventually it was a superior mental frame that helped the British player to sneak through in the tie-breaker.
“I think the calm while being under pressure made a lot of difference for me,” Watson said. “I am really happy to be through to the second round, and if I can continue to play the way I did today then we can be hopeful of a good week,” she added.
The former world No.3 in juniors will next meet Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens. Also going through the next round was Sorana Cirstea as the Romanian sprung the biggest surprise so far with a 6-2 6-1 win over fourth seed Anna Blinkova of Russia.
Sorana Cirstea bt Anna Blinkova 6-2, 6-1; Kirsten Flipkens bt Amina Anshba 6-2, 6-2; Kristina Mladenovic bt Magdalena Frech 6-4, 7-5; Xiyu Wang bt Timea Babos 6-3, 2-6, 6-1; Anna Karolina Schmiedlova bt Ekaterine Gorgodze 4-6, 6-2, 6-3; Elena Gabriela Ruse 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-1; Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov bt Oceane Dodin 6-2, 6-4; Danka Kovinic bt Jaqueline Adina Cristian 6-1, 6-3; Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove bt Jodie Anna Burrage 6-4, 6-2; Dalma Galfi bt Mika Dagan Fruchtman 6-3, 6-1; Heather Watson bt Aleksandra Krunic 6-0, 7-6 (3).