Errani, Schmiedlova Among Familiar Names In Dubai

Sara Errani (photo: Jorge Ferrari/Tennis Australia)

WASHINGTON, January 13, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Their names are recognizable to fans who follow women’s tennis: Sara Errani, Tsvetana Pironkova, Eugenie Bouchard and Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, to name a few. They were among 11 former WTA Top 40 players who were on Tuesday’s order of play at the Australian Open women’s qualifying tournament in Dubai. Their mission this week has been clear: win three times and you’re going to Melbourne. Lose and it’s a one-way ticket home. Only 16 of the 128 who started the qualifying draw are assured of going to Australia for next month’s first Grand Slam of 2021.

• Former World No. 5 Errani overcame Spain’s Georgina Garcia Perez, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, to move one step closer to returning to a Grand Slam main draw, where she once was a fixture. Think back to 2012 and you’ll likely remember Errani being a Roland Garros runner-up, a US Open semifinalist and an Australian quarterfinalist. In 2013, she reached the semifinals in Paris. By two years ago, Errani’s ranking had dipped well below 300 (to No. 366) after struggling with both her serve and confidence. She’s admitted she still battles nerves after rising back up the rankings ladder to No. 131.

“I have a lot of nervous tensions that don’t let me play free,” said the 17th-seeded Errani, when interviewed by the Australian Open website. “So, I just want to try to improve that and try to go up in the ranking[s].

“I think I’m not playing my best on the match because I want too much to win. When you win more matches, maybe you are more relaxed, you can play easier. Now, every match is important,” Errani continued. “You don’t play for just Australian Open main draw, but you have opportunity to play more tournaments. So, you have more on the price of the match.”

• The former World No. 26 Schmiedlova from Slovakia beat Japan’s Chihiro Muramatsu, 6-4, 6-3, to move one step closer to qualifying for Melbourne. Injuries in 2019 dropped her ranking outside the Top 200, but now that she’s back and fit, she’s risen to No. 135 after reaching the third round at Roland Garros, where she upset 2020 Western & Southern Open champion Victoria Azarenka.

In an interview published by the Australian Open website, Schmiedlova, who has won 17 of her last 24 matches, called her victory over Azarenka “maybe even the best match of of my career. Also, for my first round I won against Venus Williams, so it was also [a] great match.”

Schmiedlova’s win against Williams snapped a dubious streak of losing 12 consecutive Grand Slam main draw first-round matches. She said: “I think last season was really good for me, even when the corona was really bad. When I played, I played really good. I had even more matches than other players and I felt really good on court. I hope this year will be even better and my ranking will improve.”

Next, Schmiedlova faces former World No. 25 Timea Babos from Hungary, who advanced over France’s Tessa Andrianiafitrimo, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2. Babos is, perhaps, better known as the reigning Australian and French Open doubles champion with partner Kristina Mladenovic.

• The 136th-ranked Pironkova from Bulgaria, who last year enjoyed a quarterfinal run at the US Open and followed it up by advancing to the third round at Roland Garros, has won eight of her last 10 matches – including a pair in Dubai this week – since coming back to the tour as mother after a long hiatus. On Tuesday, she beat Han Na-lae of South Korea, 6-0, 3-6, 6-1.

News & noteworthy

Among those making it to the final day of Dubai qualifying: No. 1 seed Kaja Juvan of Slovenia, former World No. 23 Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, rising Egyptian star Mayar Sherif, and former World No. 20 Mihaela Buzarnescu from Romania.

Juvan eliminated Angelina Kalinina of Ukraine, 6-2, 6-4, to advance against Rebecca Sramkova of Slovakia in Wednesday’s final day of qualifying. No. 3 seed Greet Minnen of Belgium defeated Veronica Cepede Royg of Paraguay, 7-5, 6-3, to set up a final-round match against former Top 20 player Varvara Lepchenko of the United States. The No. 16 seed Sheif battled past American Grace Min to advance against former Top 50 player Alessandra Krunic of Serbia.

Not moving on is former World No. 5 Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, who was upset by Yuan Yue of China, 6-2, 6-4. Also, No. 12 seed Caty McNally of the United States lost to unseeded Harmony Tan of France, 6-1, 6-4.

Tuesday’s complete results

Wednesday’s order of play