I’m really enjoying the resumption of tennis in Abu Dhabi this week and the odd midweek start to the tournament means there’s a lot more tennis going on at the weekend than usual. It comes at a favourable time with no Premier League football this weekend. Football was my favourite sport before I got into tennis, but i’ve got back into it during the pandemic. It hasn’t affected my performance in Fantasy Premier League though which has been abysmal so far 😂. This post rounds up second round action at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open. There’s some cracking matches to look forward to on Sunday’s schedule….
Marta Kostyuk d. Hsieh Su-Wei, 6-3 6-7(4) 6-3
Playing the likes of Hsieh Su-Wei and Monica Niculescu is somewhat of an initiation ritual to the WTA tour for the teens on tour. For a set and a half, Marta Kostyuk was passing the test with flying colours. Kostyuk survived the Hsieh happy hour to win in three entertaining sets. Hsieh’s ability to change direction with her groundstokes is mesmerising. As Kostyuk tightened up, having led 6-3 5-1, Hsieh kept dragging Kostyuk from side-to-side-to-side-to-side. Kostyuk three times failed to serve out the match at *5-2, *5-4 and *6-5 as Hsieh came back to win the second set on the tiebreak.
Hsieh had all the momentum in the third set and I thought she was going to win. Kostyuk showed a lot of character to not let this match become a runaway train. Kostyuk seemed to settle after holding serve at *1-3. Hsieh was dictating and still dragging Kostyuk in all directions. Kostyuk committed to staying in the rallies and produced some sensational defence, even waiting for her opportunity to charge the net and come out on top of some of the extended rallies.
Kostyuk won the last five games and served out the match at the fourth time of asking. This was a superb win for Kostyuk and I was impressed how she managed to reset in the third set, both mentally and tactically, against one of the trickiest players on tour. Kostyuk got a mention in my WTA predictions for 2021. I think this will be her big breakthrough year on tour.
(9) Maria Sakkari d. Coco Gauff, 7-5 6-2
In the last match of the day, Maria Sakkari beat Coco Gauff in another straight sets victory. It was closer than their previous meeting which Sakkari won, 6-3 6-1 in Cincy-New York. Neither played their best tennis and it was a scrappy encounter with only a scattering of decent points. Sakkari was more convincing in the rallies and played smart as she peppered the Gauff forehand which increasingly leaked errors during the match.
Overall it was a bit of a flat performance from Gauff. I think she’s doing OK but it’s obviously not in line with the hype that surrounds her. The serve and forehand are key areas that need attention. While it wasn’t a great serving day for Sakkari, I can see the improvement and she seems to be getting a lot more pop on the first serve. A good start to 2021 for Sakkari.
Anastasia Gasanova d. (3) Karolina Pliskova, 6-2 6-4
I’d never heard of Gasanova before this tournament! The 21-year-old Russian, ranked #292 in the world and playing her first ever WTA main draw tournament, just beat the world number six and handily! Gasanova played a great match of relentless and precise baseline aggression to beat a mostly dreadful Pliskova.
It’s early days and you can’t draw conclusions after one tournament. Not the most convincing of starts for Pliskova though and considering how she has historically started sharp with a trio of titles in Brisbane.
(15) Ons Jabeur d. Kateryna Bondarenko, 5-7 6-3 6-2
It’s so encouraging to see Jabeur toughing out these wins. As I said a few times last year, I think these are the types of matches that Jabeur was losing a few years ago. Now it’s got to the stage where I expect her to prevail and she did just that, rallying from a set down to beat Kateryna Bondarenko.
Tamara Zidansek d. Leylah Fernandez, 6-4 6-4
A great start to the year for Tamara Zidansek who backed up her opening round upset of Jen Brady with a straight sets win over the talented Canadian, Leylah Fernandez. Fernandez struggled to make a dent on Zidansek’s serve and missed too many returns. All of Fernandez’s attempts to mix up the play with drop shots didn’t work out. It felt like the momentum had turned in the second set when Fernandez broke serve to lead 4-2. It didn’t last long at all and, surprisingly, the momentum swung straight back as a steady Zidansek raced through the final four games of the match.
Favourite snap 📸
Loving Jimmie’s photos from Abu Dhabi this week. Go follow him on Twitter if you don’t already!
Why can’t we have nice things? I’d planned my morning around watching Muchova-Kasatkina but it was not to be as Karolina Muchova pulled out of the tournament.
R3 watchlist 📺
Garbiñe Muguruza vs. Maria Sakkari: Ring the bells for a first time match-up! Both have been very solid so far this week. I actually quite like Sakkari in this one?
Aryna Sabalenka vs. Ons Jabeur: This match-up excites me. They played at Roland Garros last year where Jabeur won in three topsy turvy and entertaining sets. Surprised to see Sabalenka the clear favourite with the bookmakers. I guess 11 wins a row has something to do with that. I loved Jabeur’s comments in press (via WTA Insider) about looking forward to this match. I think it’s 50-50 and if I had to pick a winner, i’d go Jabeur.
Elena Rybakina vs. Daria Kasatkina: Kasatkina beat Rybakina in Ostrava last year, a result I have no memory of whatsoever. Kasatkina is the only unseeded player in a loaded top half of the draw. I haven’t seen any of Rybakina’s matches this year but my instinct was Rybakina for the win.
Sofia Kenin vs. Yulia Putintseva: Another new match-up alert. Oh this could be fun 😁.