The 2017 Dubai Duty Free Championships began on Sunday with the number 15 seed, Caroline Garcia opening up proceedings on Centre Court against Johanna Larsson. It wasn’t an entertaining match but Garcia was good value for the win, 6-3 6-3. The Frenchwoman saved break points in three of her five service games in the first set and closed it out with one of her best points of the match, moving forward up the court with confidence.
There was a definitely a sense of both players trying to find their range on this speedy court. Garcia tidied up her serve in the second set and broke again, thanks to a double fault from Larsson on break point. Garcia broke for the third time in the match to win in 67 minutes. The Frenchwoman isn’t always the most reliable so this was a good, solid start to the tournament.
Following Garcia’s win on Centre Court, Sam Stosur and Naomi Osaka both sealed straight set wins. Stosur defeated Zhang Kai-Lin, 6-3 6-3, while Osaka beat Chang Kai-Chen, 6-2 6-4. Osaka’s game seems nicely suited to these fast hard courts and she has a very workable draw with Kiki Bertens or Christina McHale up next. Osaka was the star of today’s WTA Insider podcast and it was a good one! Well worth a listen if you’ve never heard from Naomi before.
Wang Qiang had an excellent win over Jelena Ostapenko, 7-6(1) 6-2. There were a handful of stunning points from Ostapenko but it was on the whole, a very erratic display. The Latvian player committed a lot of errors in a one-sided first set tiebreak having recovered a 2-5 first deficit. After a bright start to the year, things have turned a little bleak again for Ostapenko. She’ll face a drop in next week’s rankings…
Ons Jabeur scored the biggest win of her career, saving set points in the first set and delivering a commanding third set display on serve to defeat the number 14 seed, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 7-6(6) 2-6 6-4. Jabeur had come so close to a career best win in Taipei City a few weeks ago when she missed multiple match points in a quarter-final against Elina Svitolina. Jabeur is currrently ranked at #172 in the rankings but has made an encouraging start to 2017 with this her 12th win of the year so far. To hear more from Ons, check out yesterday’s WTA Insider podcast.
The first night session of the tournament delivered two upsets based on rankings. The world number 112, Mona Barthel produced a clean display to overwhelm a sluggish and cold, Jelena Jankovic, 6-1 6-3. JJ had a changeover rant during the first set where she complained of being cold and lost, and her shots not going through the court. Barthel danced through the first set, anticipating well and displaying some very classy groundstrokes.
Having followed Mona a lot over the past few years, I expected a wobble. Jankovic did get back on level terms in the second set to 3-3 but Barthel was solid mentally against an erratic and frustrated, Jankovic. Barthel sealed the win in under an hour to set up a second round date with Angelique Kerber… now that could be fun!
The number 16 seed, Roberta Vinci served for the match against Kristyna Pliskova at 6-3 *5-4; the Czech player fought back to level up at one set all and was clearly the better player in the decider as Vinci lost her way quite significantly having looked so assured early on. Pliskova’s movement is certainly suspect but this was a very gutsy display against a tricky opponent. Her serve and power won through in the end.
In other first matches from Dubai…
Ekaterina Makarova didn’t face a break point in a 6-3 6-1 victory over Zhu Lin, needing just 61 minutes to book a second round rematch with Dominika Cibulkova. Makarova beat Cibulkova at the Australian Open earlier this year.
Zheng Saisai won just her second WTA main draw match of the year, beating Lara Arruabarrena, 6-4 3-6 6-3. After going through a spell of losing 12 out of 13 three set matches, Zheng has now won three of her last four in 2017.
Viktorija Golubic won her first singles match of 2017, defeating Cagla Buyukakcay, 6-7(4) 6-3 6-2.
Laura Siegemund won her first singles match since September, holding out against Silvia Soler-Espinosa, 6-7(4) 6-4 7-6(3) in two hours and 57 minutes.
Anastasija Sevastova had a good day, winning both her singles and doubles matches. From 2-4 down in the second set, Sevastova defeated Irina-Camelia Begu in straight sets, 6-1 7-5.
The two Doha finalists, Karolina Pliskova and Caroline Wozniacki are currently topping the reader poll for who will win Dubai (at the time of writing). Pliskova (29%) and Wozniacki (21%) take up exactly 50% of the vote, followed by Agnieszka Radwanska, Dominika Cibulkova and Garbiñe Muguruza.
Dubai takes centre stage this week but there is also a WTA International event in Budapest. I’ll be taking an interest since Lucie Safarova is the number two seed. I think it’s actually a smart choice from Lucie and she will be one of the contenders for the title.
In case you missed it, you can catch up with some of the best bits of Doha in my Match Points post for the tournament. If you fancy reminiscing, all my tournament highlights from the start of 2016 can be found HERE.
And finally, Monday’s schedule is up and there’s plenty to look forward to. The match of the day will see Caroline Wozniacki take on Daria Kasatkina at not before 7pm local time (3pm UK time). Unfortunately that’s a bit early for me so i’ll need a lengthy three setter and hope I can catch the end of it!