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Dubai tennis: Mertens overcomes Pegula; Muguruza beats Sabalenka

Belgium's Elise Mertens hits a forehand return. (Supplied photo)
Belgium's Elise Mertens hits a forehand return. (Supplied photo)

Dubai - The 10th seed, ranked 18th in the world, saved three match points in the second set to triumph 5-7, 7-5, 6-0

By James Jose

Published: Thu 11 Mar 2021, 10:08 PM

Last updated: Thu 11 Mar 2021, 10:21 PM

This was as good as a heist. Belgium’s Elise Mertens brought her amazing fighting qualities to the fore to work her past American Jessica Pegula and into the semifinals of the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship on Thursday night.

The 10th seed saved three match points in the second set to triumph 5-7, 7-5, 6-0 in a match that lasted two hours and 47 minutes on Centre Court of the Aviation Club Tennis Centre.

Mertens, ranked 18th in the world, lost the first set and was staring down the barrel in the second. But the 25-year-old, winner of the the Australian Open doubles earlier this year, conjured a brilliant fightback, warding off three match points to stay in the match and then counter-punched by winning 11 games in a row to nick the quarterfinal match-up.

It was a case of so near yet so far for Pegula, the Australian Open quarterfinalist and Doha Open semifinalist, with the world No.36 letting the match slip from her grasp. And it was a see-saw battle with the first set alone taking 75 minutes, while the second lasted 59 minutes.

“It is unbelievable to come back like this. I just didn’t want to let it go. I just kept on fighting and that was the spirit today (Thursday),” Mertens said after the match.

“I just kept on fighting. That’s the kind of mentality you need to have against top players. Every match is going to be difficult if you keep that in mind. I just tried to stay in the game today because she was playing really good,” the 2018 Australian Open semifinalist added.

In a late quarterfinal match, ninth seeded Spaniard Garbine Muguruza reached her third semifinal in Dubai, after rallying from a set down to beat third seed and world No.8 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, in an hour and 51 minutes.

The world No.16, who had defeated Sabalenka in the Round of 16, en route to the final in Doha last week, had made it to the last four here in 2015 and 2018.

Earlier, unseeded Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic made it to the third semifinals of her career with a commanding victory over Russian wildcard Anastasia Potapova. The world No.63 was dominant as she eased past the nervy 19-year-old 6-0, 6-2 in the quarterfinals.

Krejcikova broke Potapova in the first, third and the fifth games to take the first set 6-0 in 25 minute.

And although they traded breaks in the third and fourth games, Krejcikova broke Potapova in the fifth and seventh games and then served out for the set and the match. The 25-year-old closed it out with an inch perfect ace down the middle, her only one of the match. Krejcikova won 60 points to Potapova’s 34.

“I really don’t know how to explain what I feel. I’m just so relieved and I’m just so happy that I was able to play one of my best tennis and it feels really good, I have goosebumps,” said Krejcikova.

Looking ahead to her semifinal, she said: “Right now, I’m just going to enjoy this victory. At the end of the day, I’m just going to look at the match I’m going to play and I’m just going to prepare for tomorrow (Friday) and just enjoy myself because that’s the key for me.”

Krejcikova also said that her experience in the doubles had held her in good stead.

“It helps a lot because I’m doing a lot of serving, a lot of returning. I’m playing doubles, I’m also playing mixed, I’m playing against guys, so they are serving way faster. So, I think it is really good preparation. It is a good feeling to be able to achieve the dreams that you have and I feel like after my first Grand Slam, when we won it in 2018 at the French Open, I felt really relieved that my dream was always to win a Grand Slam and, at that moment, it happened. Since then, I’ve been trying to improve every single day, trying to stay positive,” said the former doubles world No.1, who also won the Wimbledon doubles title in 2018.


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