Anastasia Potapova in action against Belinda Bencic during their Dubai Duty Free Championships third round match on Wednesday. Courtesy: Dubai Duty Free Championships website
Amir Naqvi, Sports Editor
The seeds continued to tumble out of the Dubai Duty Free Championships as 2015 runner-up Karolina Pliskova and 2019 champion Belinda Bencic crashed out in the third round on Wednesday.
Second seed Pliskova suffered a shocking 6-0, 6-2 defeat at the hands of Jessica Pegula while wildcard Anastasia Potapova defeated sixth seed Belinda Bencic 6-1, 2-6, 7-5.
The American world No.36, who reached the Australian Open quarter-finals last month, handed the second defeat to the world No.6 after dismantling her in Doha last week. Pliskova double-faulted seven times and dropped serve on six occasions as Pegula took just 53 minutes to storm into the quarter-finals.
She will next face 10th seed Elise Mertens, who cruised past Caroline Garcia 6-4, 6-2.
“I played as many balls as I could and I played a bit more aggressive, ‘’ said Mertens. “I didn’t really change anything. I worked hard in the pre-season. You have to believe that you can win every match or compete in every match, even if you are tired or not, just give your 100 per cent,” she added.
The top two seeds are now out of the tournament with top seed and world No.5 Elina Svitolina, Dubai champion in 2017 and 2018, going down to Russian world No.41 Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round on Tuesday.
Potapova spoiled former champion Bencic’s 24th birthday celebrations after recovering from a set down to knock out the world No.12 from Switzerland.
The world No.88 started well and dominated the first set. Raising the stakes, the Swiss bounced back with her superb serve which was aided by five double faults from Russian.
Both the players’ double faulted a couple of times in the decider but finally Potapova prevailed after earning a crucial break for 6-5, and later sealed the spot in the last eight.
She will now face Barbora Krejcikova, who ousted Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 6-2. The Russian veteran and three-time finalist Kuznetsova, who has more wins in Dubai than any other active player, stunned Svitolina on Tuesday but failed to get past Czech Republic’s Krejcikova.
Third seed Aryna Sabalenka cruised into the quarter-finals for the second consecutive year with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Anett Kontaveit.
The world No.8 from Belarus, who won the inaugural edition of Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open in January, beat the 15th seed from Estonia in an hour and four minutes.
Sabalenka fired 22 winners against 14 unforced errors en route to her victory against the Estonian and set up a mouthwatering clash against former world No. 1 Garbine Muguruza.
“It’s always great battles playing against her (Gabrine Muguruza). This time I will be focused from the beginning of the match and I will try to exert more pressure on her,” said Sabalenka.
Muguruza defeated Sabalenka in Doha last week. The No.9 seed reached the last eight after beating French Open winner and No.8 seed Iga Swiatek, 6-0, 6-4.
Competing in the tournament for the seventh time and reaching her fourth quarter-final in Dubai, Muguruza needed an hour to beat Swiatek.
“Back-to-back matches are good. That means I’m playing the top players, that means I’m getting into the deep rounds. I’m looking forward to another battle against Sabalenka,” said Muguruza.
American teen sensation Coco Gauff secured a spot in the quarter-finals with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over qualifier Tereza Martincova. Gauff broke Martincova’s serve twice in both the sets to win the game in an hour.
Gauff now meets WTA 54th-ranked Swiss player Jil Belen Teichmann for a place in the semis. Teichmann disposed of the last remaining Arab hope in the tournament, WTA 31st-ranked Tunisian Ons Jabeur in straight sets 6-3, 6-3.
While Jabeur’s very first service was broken by Teichmann — the only break that was sufficient to hand the first set to the Swiss player —in the second, the Tunisian player was broken twice, in seventh and ninth games, to surrender the set 6-3.
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