Defending champion Elina Svitolina will face Australian Open semi-finalist Angelique Kerber in the semi-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships after both claimed straight-sets victories on Thursday. Svitolina held off a determined fightback to overcome wild card Naomi Osaka 6-2 6-4, and in a clash of two former world number ones Kerber defeated Karolina Pliskova 6-4 6-3.
The remaining quarter-finals, featuring Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza and French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko’s conqueror Elena Vesnina, are being played later on Thursday.
It seemed at first as if Svitolina was going to race away with the match as she swept to a 5-0 lead, not even allowing her opponent a game point in the first four games. But the momentum changed as Osaka eventually found her serve and hit her groundstrokes with confidence, pace and accuracy. By then it was too late to save the first set but she carried her momentum into the second and earned an early break of serve, before a determined Svitolina re-established herself and claimed the last five games.
RELATED: Young Guns set sight on Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships Title
“I had couple of tough matches against her,” said Svitolina, who lost to Osaka in their last two meetings. “I had to be ready for her to come back. The match that we played in Tokyo I think, you know, I was up again. It was, like, little bit frustrating for me to lose that match. So I had to be ready for her to raise her level. Just stayed in the moment. Was fighting, waiting for my opportunity, trying to earn opportunities. That’s pretty much it. She gave me this chance and I took it. This was the key.”
She is content with the way she is dealing with the pressure of defending her title.
“Yeah, definitely I’m happy the way I’ve been handling the pressure and tough moments. I had two good matches. I cannot say was amazing tennis, but when I needed I was stepping up and playing well.”
Just one break decided the first set between Kerber and Pliskova. Kerber then broke at love to lead 1-0 in the second set as her opponent struck two double-faults, and then once again for the match. Kerber did not face a break point and she has now won 15 matches this year, equalling the total of Australian Open champion and world number one Caroline Wozniacki.
“I think that I was playing quite good today,” said Kerber. “Especially I served well. I think that was at the end the key for the match. I know what to expect, all that. She hit the ball really hard, serving good. I was trying to, yeah, playing good returns back, then just playing my game.”
“We could not ask for a more interesting match in the semi-finals, with our defending champion playing one of the most successful players of the 2018 season,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “Angelique Kerber has made a terrific start to the season by winning in Sydney, and Elina Svitolina has also been playing well with the Brisbane title under her belt. It should be a mouth-watering contest.”
“The first of our semi-finals is set and it should be a fantastic contest,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “Both have been playing wonderful tennis to begin the new season, and both have performed exceptionally well to reach this stage of the tournament. They also played each other in the semi-finals here last year, with Svitolina winning in straight sets. We certainly have a very interesting match in prospect. ”