Dubai Duty Free Tennis: Rybakina wins battle of Slam winners

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Elena Rybakina hits a return against Bianca Andreescu on Monday. — Photo by Shihab
Elena Rybakina hits a return against Bianca Andreescu on Monday. — Photo by Shihab

Published: Tue 21 Feb 2023, 12:53 AM

Even though tennis fans were left disappointed following the unexpected postponement of Indian tennis star and Dubai resident Sania Mirza’s highly-anticipated match on Tuesday, defending champion Jelena Ostapenko lifted spirits as she began the defence of the title she won twelve months ago with a sparkling display of her astonishing tennis skills.


Leslie Wilson Jr

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The 2017 French Open winner, and this year’s 13th seed at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, ruthlessly dominated Ukraine's Katarina Zavatska for a 6-1, 6-4 victory.

An enthralling day’s action ended closer to midnight with ninth seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, the reigning Wimbledon champion and a losing finalist at this year’s Australian Open, delivering a masterclass against Canada’s Bianca Andreescu, the former US Open champion, for a 6-3 6-4 victory.

“I’m happy that I managed to win with a few ups and downs in the second set,” said Rybakina, who lost to Simona Halep in the final three years ago. “I had to focus, so overall I am happy that I managed to win. I want to win every match I play on court. I’m trying to do the work with my team to improve every match.”

If Iga Swiatek, the reigning world No 1 and top seed in Dubai, was watching the Ostapenko vs Zavatska clash, she would have taken note of the potential threat that the Latvian star poses as she launches her quest for a maiden title in the UAE following back-to-back misses in 2021 and 2022.

With many top stars of the women’s game in action on the Dubai Tennis Stadium’s resurfaced DecoTurf courts, among them Wimbledon champion Rybakina and former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka, Ostapenka chose the opportunity to show that she wants to win every point as she built a wall around her formidable defense.

“It’s great to be back here, I played some amazing tennis last year and I enjoy playing in Dubai – I love the tournament and the city,” she said. “The crowd is amazing and I’m enjoying my tennis.

“She's not an easy opponent I think. Today didn't give her many chances to play. I was playing more aggressive and took time away from her and made her play uncomfortable. I think that was the key.

“I really try to focus more on myself when I play against some girls that I don't really know that much. I think in general it was not a bad match,” said Ostapenko who will face Czech Republic's Linda Fruhvirtova in the second round.

Day 2 also featured several marathon clashes on Centre Court including a record-setting three hours and 29-minute thriller between Romania’s Sorana Cirstea and Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia, which went in favour of the former who prevailed 4-6, 7-6, 7-5 winner.

Only a day earlier Russia’s Ludmilla Samsonova and Dubai-based Spaniard Paula Badosa fought out a 3 hours and 22 minutes thriller, which till that point set the record for longest women’s tennis match of 2023.

Earlier in the evening, Victoria Azarenka, the two-time Australian Open winner and 2010 runner-up to Venus Williams in Dubai, brushed aside the challenge of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 7-5.

However, the Belarusian, who seems to have discovered a rich vein of form, admitted that she wished she had finished the match a lot earlier.

“I’m happy to win, for sure but I felt that I had t too many ups and downs today,” said Azarenka. “I just wanted to kind of close it out a bit earlier. Finding the way to win, it's also very good, especially when you're maybe not playing at your best.”

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