WTA Abu Dhabi 2021, R1 Highlights: Kasatkina wins first main draw match of new season

Happy New Year and welcome to the 2021 WTA season! I’m very thankful for the resumption of tennis as we moved into our third Lockdown this week in the UK. It’s going to be a long winter. I’m just trying to keep busy and generally avoid reading too much of the news. Wherever you are in the world, I hope you are keeping safe! This post covers first round action from Wednesday and Thursday at the inaugural Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open.

 R1️⃣ Results

Daria Kasatkina d. Wang Qiang, 6-2 3-6 6-2

An answer to remember for your next WTA pub quiz. The first main draw winner of the 2021 WTA season was… Daria Kasatkina! It was the classic Kasatkina rollercoaster ride as she overcame Wang Qiang in three sets. Kasatkina played a decent opening set punctuated with forceful forehands. She actually served it out with an ace which might be a first for Dasha. In the second set, Wang Qiang started hitting inside the lines and found her forehand. Kasatkina didn’t really react to Wang Qiang’s improved level.

From 0-2 down in the third set, Kasatkina won the last six games of the match. The Russian player toughed out some increasingly lengthy rallies with impressive depth on her groundstrokes as Wang Qiang’s game rather imploded.This was Wang Qiang’s first competitive match since March 2020 so it was understandable to see a bit of match rust in the third set. Kasatkina is such a confidence player so this was anecouraging start. I feel she has slowly been moving in the right direction for the past year.

Ons Jabeur d. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 7-6(3) 6-3

In one of the most enticing sounding first rounders, Ons Jabeur saved a pair of set points to edge a tight opener before advancing in straight sets over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Jabeur did most of the dictating in the first set but she was the one who was forced to save two set points serving at *4-5 *15-40. Both were saved in style – a backhand winner down-the-line, followed by an even flashier forehand winner down-the-line. Jabeur at her very best 🔥.

Overall it was a quality match from Jabeur and her drop shots were mostly working. It was arguably Pavlyuchenkova though who hit the shot of the match with a scooped forehand passing shot winner towards the end of the match which prompted a mini Pavs revival. Jabeur was a legitimate contender for most improved player in 2020 and this was a fine start to the new season against a dangerous opponent. The next step for Jabeur is to build on the consistency she showed in 2020 and break through into the latter stages of tournaments. Jabeur reached five quarter-finals in 2020 but didn’t go any deeper in those tournaments.

Garbiñe Muguruza d. Kristina Mladenovic, 6-2 6-4

My first thought whenever I see this match-up will always be 25 languages and that feisty fourth round clash at the French Open in 2017. Muguruza and Mladenovic have played since in Monterrey where Muguruza won in straights but I can’t say it’s a match that I remember! This was another straight sets win for Muguruza. While a solid win, the scoreline probably flatters Muguruza. It was a match of patchy quality although I did enjoy the intensity and tension of the second set.

Muguruza was rusty at the start as Mladenovic won the first eight points of the match. Muguruza saved a break point to win her first game at 0-2 and then won six games on the trot. The second set was tighter and Mladenovic was the better player for large chunks of it. Muguruza was the more clutch player (or less shaky player would be accurate) as it was the Spaniard who won most of the big games and points. Mladenovic’s serve let her down in the first set and completely fell apart at the end with five double faults in the last game and three in a row to end the match. The scar tissue left behind from some crushing losses in 2020 is still evident for Mladenovic.

Hot shot 🔥

Tennis Channel had Jabeur’s second set point save as their shot of the day from day 1 of main draw action.

Rant 🤬

The biggest talking point from week 1 has been the loss of the ATP-WTA live scoring app. The WTA have live scores on their website but they’ve been a mess so far. Seriously, did no one at the WTA test this?! I’m using Flash Scores Tennis on my computer and Resultina on my phone. There are plenty of alternatives out there that are easy to find but none of them fully replace what the live scores app did. You don’t realise how good something was until it’s gone.

It reminds me of the streaming debacle when the WTA pulled away from TennisTV without having a replacement in time for the start of the 2017 season. Readers from back then may remember I was like a broken record complaining about it. I was glad to see the WTA tweet about the situation yesterday although it was obviously reactive to the comments from fans, media and the PLAYERS!!!

 R2️⃣ watchlist 📺

Karolina Muchova vs. Daria Kasatkina (Saturday): A new match-up alert featuring two of my favourite players. Count me in. Can’t wait.

Maria Sakkari vs. Coco Gauff (Saturday): Super intriguing match. Sakkari beat Gauff, 6-1 6-3 in Cincy-New York last year. I’m high on Sakkari this year so she’s my pick for this match.

Hsieh Su-Wei vs. Marta Kostyuk (Saturday): Hsieh is one of those tricksters who is a litmus test for the up-and-comers. Kostyuk will have her hands full trying to figure Hsieh out. Fancy Kostyuk to rise to the challenge.

Follow Moo’s Tennis Blog on Twitter and Facebook. Feature photo by Omar Boraby Photography.

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