Powerful Pliskova Plows Into Dubai Quarterfinals

DUBAI, February 19, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Second seed Karolina Pliskova needed just 67 minutes to reach the quarterfinal round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships as she dropped just three games against No. 39 Kristina Mladenovic en route to a 6-1, 6-2 victory on Centre Court Wednesday afternoon.

Pliskova won 85 percent of her first-serve points, hit four aces and faced no break points from her French opponent, who advanced through the rounds of qualifying and one round in the main draw. The Czech World No. 3 hit 14 winners, committed just 10 unforced errors and broke Mladenovic four times while outpointing her 62-39.

“It always a tough one against her. We played in Australia, so I knew what to expect,” said Pliskova, who improved her career head-to-head against Mladenovic to 4-2, including 2-1 on hard courts. Pliskova’s win at the Aviation Club avenged her 2017 second-round loss to Mladenovic in Dubai.

“Although the score was easy, she was still fighting in the second set,” Pliskova said during her post-match press conference. “I think it was positive that I really stayed in because she could make it difficult for me if I don’t really stay in the match. That’s what actually happened in Australia. I think she got much better in the second set. It was also getting a little bit here. I think I made it easier for myself that I just there every point.”

Next, Pliskova will face unseeded No. 19 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, who eliminated 58th-ranked qualifier Katerina Siniakova from the Czech Republic, 6-3, 6-3, in one hour and 21 minutes on Centre Court to reach her fourth quarterfinal of the season. The Hobart champion followed up her first-round win over Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin with a solid performance in which she served four aces to increase her WTA-leading total to 115. She won 69 percent of her first-serve points, saved six of eight break points and broke Siniakova’s serve five times.

Halep wins thriller over crowd favorite Jabeur

For the entirety of the first set and, again, in the decisive third-set tie-break, 45th-ranked wild card Ons Jabeur stretched top seed Simona Halep to the brink of a monumental upset during Wednesday evening’s featured match on Centre Court. The Arab No. 1 from Tunisia was the favorite of the crowd and there were many fans waving Tunisian flags in support of her.

However, Jabeur’s heroic challenge went for naught as the World No. 2 Halep, who was playing her first match since losing in the semifinals of the Australian Open to Garbiñe Muguruza, escaped with a 1-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7) victory in two hours after saving a match point during the tie-break and winning on her fourth match-point opportunity. Only three points separated the two, with Halep holding a 95-92 edge at the conclusion.

“It was like a football match or a Fed Cup match,” said Halep during her post-match interview. “I didn’t really realize what is going on on court. Everyone was with a lot of energy, so we had to give our best. I think it was a great match.

“The only thing that you have to do when you don’t have rhythm during the match, just put your head down and fight for every ball. You never know when you can win an easy ball or a tough ball. What I had to do is just fight. I’m really proud that I could do that.”

With the match twice on Jabeur’s racquet in the final set, first serving at 6-5 and, then, with a match point at 7-6 in the tie-break, the Tunisian was unable to close the door on Halep. In the tie-break, she netted two nearly-identical forehand returns, which gave Halep a fourth match point at 8-7. The Romanian finally converted when Jabeur’s forehand returned soared well over the baseline.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t play my best tennis today,” Jabeur admitted during her post-match interview. “There is a lot of positive things in this match, but I feel like a lot of negativity right now, which is going to take time for me to be in a better spot I hope.”

In the end, said Halep of her win and of Jabeur, “I don’t know how I could finish that in a right way. It was up-and-down a lot because she doesn’t give rhythm. She can make unbelievable shots; she can miss a little bit too easy. … It was very weird, but happy I could win.”

Next, Halep will play No. 7 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who defeated her doubles partner, No. 22 Elise Mertens from Belgium, 6-4, 6-3. While the pair had split their four previous singles matches, this time it was the World No. 13 Sabalenka who prevailed during their 90-minute match on Court 1.

Brady gains second Top 20 win of week

Jennifer Brady from the United States rallied from a set and two breaks down to beat No. 17 Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. It was the 52nd-ranked Brady’s second Top 20 win of the week and the qualifier’s fifth win (three in qualifying, two in the main draw) in Dubai.

Brady won 11 of the last 12 games of the two hour and five minute match played on Court 1 in the first meeting between her and Vondrousova. The American saved all six break points she faced in the deciding set to reach her second quarterfinal of the year as a qualifier.

A round earlier, Brady bounced third seed Elina Svitolina from the tournament for her second Top 10 victory of the year. Next she will oppose No. 9 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, who advanced with a 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 comeback win over No. 39 qualifier Veronika Kudermetova from Russia. The two-time Grand Slam champion stayed calm throughout to reach her third Dubai quarterfinal. She served 10 aces and hit 28 winners during her two hour and 25 minute win on Centre Court. In a battle of big hitters, Muguruza broke Kudermetova’s serve five times on her way to her 10th victory of the season.

“It was a very tough match for both of us. I knew it was going to be hard. I know Veronika is playing very well,” Muguruza said during her on-court interview after the match. “I’m excited to get a victory in those tough matches.”

Looking ahead to her quarterfinal matchup against Brady, Muguruza said, “It’s going to be another tough match. Every match is a challenge, so I’m excited.”

Around the DDFTC

• No. 8 seed Petra Martic of Croatia reached the quarterfinal round with a 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 35 Barbora Strycova from the Czech Republic. It was Martic’s fourth win in five career meetings against Strycova. The World No. 15 broke her opponent four times – twice in each set – during their one hour and 46 minute match on Court 1. Martic won 63 percent of her service points and saved 10 of 11 break points she faced.

Martic is one of just two seeds in the bottom half of the draw remaining. Next, she will face No. 24 Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, who eliminated No. 31 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova from Russia, 7-6 (5), 7-5 in one hour and 39 minutes in a matchup of unseeded players on Centre Court.

• In Thursday’s quarterfinal play, all action will take place on Centre Court beginning at 2 p.m. (10 a.m. GMT). First match will feature unseeded Elena Rybakina versus No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova, followed not before 3:30 p.m. by qualifier Jennifer Brady against No. 9 seed Garbiñe Muguruza. Then, the night session will feature No. 8 seed Petra Martic versus unseeded Anett Kontaveit and conclude with No. 1 seed Simona Halep against No. 7 seed Aryna Sabalenka.

Highlighting the doubles quarterfinals on Court 1, the final matchup features No. 1 seeds Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan and Barbora Strycova from the Czech Republic against unseeded Sofia Kenin and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, both from the United States.

What they’re saying

• World No. 3 Karolina Pliskova on setting goals: “I have some goals to do well, do specific things on the practice courts, in the matches. Not always has to be about victories. I think I had enough victories in my career that I don’t have to really push to win this tournament or to win the next one.”

• During her pre-tournament sit down with the Dubai media, Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin said she was cheering for Novak Djokovic to win the Australian Open men’s singles final. “I wanted to have an excuse to message him, just to congratulate him and stuff.”

• Garbiñe Muguruza on staying calm during tough matches: “In general and in life, you try to stay calm and not let your emotions control you. When you have to compete, it’s a big part of it.”