Top seed and former champion Simona Halep will face Dubai debutant Elena Rybakina in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Saturday after both won straight-set but contrasting semi-final victories. Halep, who will be attempting to reclaim the trophy she won in 2015, ended the run of qualifier Jennifer Brady 6-2 6-0, and Rybakina overcame eighth seed Petra Martic 7-6 (5) 7-6 (2).
While both Rybakina and Brady have made headlines by ousting seeded favourites during the week, Martic had quietly reached the semi-final by winning all three of her matches in straight sets. She also had a point to win each set in the semi-final. but a tenacious Rybakina fought her way out of trouble both times. Martic led 5-3 in the 1st set and held a set point at 5-4, and in the second set Rybakina trailed 4-1 and faced a set point at 6-5 before staging another comeback.
“So tired, but happy,” said Rybakina after reaching her fourth final in 2020. “First set it was not easy because she plays really good. She has really good slices. Her serve, it’s not flat like I played with Pliskova for example. It’s completely different style of game. It was not easy to start against her. But I tried to work every point.
“Second set, of course, I was 3-0 down, but I knew it’s going to be easier to win this set than play a third one. I wanted to win second so much. I didn’t start to serve good first set. Then in important moment I managed to serve really good. Serve helped me today. I was fighting every point. I think just fighting.”
In contrast to Rybakina’s struggle, Halep always looked the more likely winner against the adventurous but ultimately frustrated Brady. She faced and saved only two break points and completed her victory in 62 minutes.
“It felt much better than previous matches,” said world number 2 Halep. “I played really well. Everything went in my side. I felt the ball great. I feel like I played the best match since I came here. Yeah, it’s fun when you feel the ball and when you can do anything you want. Today it was one of those days, I could open the court easy. I felt like every time I hit the ball I feel it.”
Now she plays for her 20th career title against an opponent who has won more matches than anyone else this year. It is a challenge she is looking forward to.
“It’s always a nice opportunity and privilege to play the last match of the tournament,” she said. “I play for another trophy, so I’m relaxed. I’m focused. I really want it. Loving to play here in Dubai makes me happy on court, and that’s why I can actually feel like every day improve. It’s amazing what she’s done already this year. I saw her a little bit during some matches. She has a big serve. I have to pay attention on my return and to be like today: confident, aggressive if there is a chance, just fighting.”
“We congratulate Simona Halep and Elena Rybakina on reaching the final,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “Both have survived difficult matches this week, with Simona facing a match point before she overcame Ons Jabeur and Elena having to fight very hard indeed to defeat our second seed Karolina Pliskova and then to hold off a fine challenge from Petra Martic. We can now look forward to what is certain to be an absorbing final.”
Tournament Director Salah Tahlak added, “For Elena Rybakina to arrive in Dubai immediately after playing a final indoors in St. Petersburg and then to reach her fourth final of the year here in Dubai is really a remarkable achievement. Simona Halep had also shown great resilience in winning two extremely close matches to reach the semi-finals, and it is impossible to predict who will take the final step to become our 2020 champion.”
The WTA event concludes on 22nd February and the tournament then continues between 24th and 29th February with the ATP event which features Wimbledon and Australian Open champion and world number 1 Novak Djokovic, ATP Finals winner Stefanos Tsitsipas, 2020 Rotterdam and Montpellier champion Gael Monfils and 2018 Dubai winner Roberto Bautista Agut.