Watson flies the flag for seeded players as she sets up semis date with Hartono

Abduraimova and Tikhonova to battle for a place in the singles final at the 26th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge

By Team KT

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Former British number one Heather Watson in action at the 26th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge. - Supplied photo
Former British number one Heather Watson in action at the 26th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge. - Supplied photo

Published: Fri 8 Dec 2023, 6:58 PM

Seasoned former British number one Heather Watson was the only seed to survive when she stormed into the singles semifinals at the 26th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge, on Friday with a 6-1, 6-3 win over third-seeded Rebecca Sramkova.

The 31-year-old Watson, who has been replaced by Katie Boulter as the number one tennis player in Great Britain, has been in fine nick this week knocking off some top players, including Kristina Mladenovic and former world No.2 Vera Zvonareva, en route to the last four stages.

Her opponent in the semi-finals will be 27-year-old Dutch girl Arianne Hartono, who packed off 19-year-old Ksenia Zaytseva 7-6 (4), 6-3 in the next quarter-final.

Anastasia Tikhonova also booked her place in the last four with a lop-sided 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 battle against good friend, Yuliya Hatouka, while Nigina Abduraimova became the last of the semi-finalists with an outright 7-6 (7), 6-2 win over Isabella Shinikova.

Watson, a former junior US Open champion, had the match under total control with some swift groundstrokes as she claimed yet another famous win against Sramkova in 74 minutes.

“This is certainly one of my toughest matches ever. But to my credit, I think I was relaxed and very present and focused on myself and what I could do out there,” Watson stated.

“I knew I had to simply do what was in my control. I didn’t want to get wrapped up in technique or a gameplan, but just stay focused on what I can do in this moment.”

Watson was not too worried about Saturday’s semi-finals.

“I feel I am playing the best tennis of my career. So, it really doesn’t matter what she [Hartono] comes up with. I will be ready for anything,” Watson vouched.

Watson’s semi-final opponent will be Hartono after the Dutch girl came through in straight sets against hard-hitting teenager Zaytseva.

“I think I took my time to adjust to her game at the beginning. But once I got a hold of things, I could see myself taking over and dominating,” Hartono said.

“What helps me in tough situations is the mental aspect. I am a fighter and I am on court to do exactly that. Once the match is over, it is life as usual for me. The plan for tomorrow is to go out there and give it everything against Heather.”

Tikhonova overcame early nervousness to fight in three sets against good friend Hatouka.

“We’ve played together for so many years now, and we know each other’s game so well. Once the first set was done I had enough confidence to just dig in there for each and every point,” Tikhonova related.

“It’s the semi-finals tomorrow and I think I am ready to give it everything. I have played Nigina before and it will be a good match.”

Abduraimova – who has World No.22 Adrian Mannarino as her coach this week – was thrilled to get through one more tough match.

“She [Shinikova] can be quite an unpredictable player. I am extremely happy to advance so deep into this tournament,” she said.

“Having an experienced coach like Adrian [Mannarino] helps a lot especially when one needs someone to speak with. And he has the experience of playing on the tour, so he understands what I go through.”

Play will commence at 2 pm on Saturday with the women’s singles semi-finals between Watson and Hartono followed by the second singles semi-finals between Abduraimova and Tikhonova. Spectators are encouraged to come and watch some top-quality tennis at the Habtoor Grand Resort in Dubai Marina.

Meanwhile, the top-seeded pair of Timea Babos and Vera Zvonareva booked their rightful place in the doubles final with a comfortable 6-4, 6-2 win against Prarthana G Thombare and Anastasia Tikhonova.


The British pairing of Olivia Nicholls and Heather Watson also eased into the last four with a 4-6, 6-3, 10-5 win against the Thai duo of Luksika Kumkhum/Peangtarn Plipuech.


Singles quarter-finals

Heather Watson bt Rebecca Sramkova 6-1, 6-3; Anastasia Tikhonova bt Yuliya Hatouka 5-7, 6-4, 7-5; Arianne Hartono bt Ksenia Zaytseva 7-6 (4), 6-3; Nigina Abduraimova bt Isabella Shinikova 7-6 (7), 6-2.

Doubles semi-finals

Timea Babos/Vera Zvonareva bt Prarthana G Thombare/Anastasia Tikhonova 6-4, 6-2. Doubles quarter-finals: Olivia Nicholls/Heather Watson bt Luksika Kumkhum/Peangtarn Plipuech 4-6, 6-3, 10-5.

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