Top Seed Simona Halep Keeps On Track to Win Second Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships Crown
Top seed Simona Halep kept on track to claim a second Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title when she defeated seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka 3-6 6-2 6-2 in Thursday’s quarter-finals. Elena Rybakina claimed her first win over a top 5 opponent when she defeated world number 4 Karolina Pliskova 7-6 (1) 6-3, and she was joined by qualifier Jennifer Brady, who in another upset overcame Australian Open finalist Garbine Muguruza 6-7 (5) 6-3 6-4. Eighth seed Petra Martic overcame Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (4) 6-1.
In the semi-finals, Halep will play Brady and Martic will face Rybakina.
Halep, who won the title in 2015, had saved a match point before overcoming Ons Jabeur in their previous round, and she was again taken to three sets by Sabalenka.
“Well, at the beginning it was a little bit fast everything, too powerful,” said Halep. “Since I got the rhythm, it was much easier for me to feel the game. I think I played quicker in the second set and third set. She didn’t have time to stay and to hit the ball. So I think that was the key of the match.”
Rybakina, who entered the top 20 for the first time this week, has won more matches than any other player on the WTA Tour this year, leads the WTA Tour in the number of aces hit, and she has reached the final of three out of the four tournaments she has played in 2020. Even changing from playing indoors in the Russian winter to playing outdoors in the heat of Dubai has not broken her stride, as in her very first match at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships she defeated recent Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin.
“I knew I have to serve good today,” said Rybakina, who hit 11 aces against Pliskova. “I knew also that it’s not going to be long rallies. I was preparing myself just to return. First three balls I had to play, like, really focused. It was tough match because first time actually I played here in the heat. It was really difficult for me to came just from indoors. I thought that I will have problems with the serve because indoors it’s different feeling. I’m surprised with my serve, that I’m really doing good, yeah.”
Despite her defeat, Pliskova was not too disappointed with her week and how she had played.
“She played well. I didn’t do that much wrong,” said Pliskova. “Overall I think I tried to be aggressive which with her is tough because you don’t get that many chances to be aggressive, especially on the returns. It was about a couple points. It could go both ways I think. For me was not bad week here. A lot of positives. I thought my attitude was great.”
Brady had begun the season by beating world number 1 Ashleigh Barty in Brisbane and when she arrived in Dubai she did not drop a set in qualifying before upsetting former two-time champion Elina Svitolina in the first round.
“I think really the match started from 3-2 in the second set for me,” said Brady of her match against Muguruza. “Never really felt like I was in the match from the very beginning. I think maybe a bit of nerves from both of us. Yeah, happy that I was able to close it out at the end. Didn’t play my best tennis, but just found a way to stay in there, compete, come out on top.”
Muguruza felt she wasn’t able to capitalise on her chances.
“I had so many opportunities. I can’t count how many I had,” she said. “They didn’t go my way. I felt like every time I had an opportunity she was playing well the point, serving big, making winners. I was expecting a tough match. I mean, she’s playing great. I think she has a very good serve. Her ball is pretty hard.”
After struggling to gain the upper hand in the first set, Martic took control in the second but made sure she kept on her toes.
“Was tough throughout the match,” said Martic, who had never won a main draw match in her three previous times competing in Dubai. “I mean, she’s hitting really hard. Had to stay alert because she was attacking my serve. If you kind of let go, dropping your focus, she’s back in the game in no time. I just tried to be sharp out there from the first to the last point. I think I did it pretty well.“
“Simona Halep has demonstrated once again how very difficult it is to beat her, and that is why she is ranked as the second best player in the world at the present time,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “We congratulate her on reaching the semi-finals, as well as Petra Martic who has yet to drop a set.
“Elena Rybakina has been enjoying a remarkable season and we have been very impressed with the progress she has made here this week. It will be very interesting to see if she can continue her fantastic start to 2020 and reach her fourth final of the year this weekend. Jennifer Brady too has impressed us with her upset of two of the players who began the tournament as a possible champion.”
Tournament Director Salah Tahlak added, “Every day this week has produced some great surprises and excellent performances from players who may not have been familiar to Dubai tennis fans. It is one of the attractions of the tournament that fans can enjoy not only the very top players, but new faces who are stars of the future.”
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships tournament continues with the WTA event until 22nd February and is then followed between 24th and 29th February by the ATP tournament 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.