Under the Patronage of H.h. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai
Pavlyuchenkova thanks the Dubai crowd for their support after dismissing the reigning champion in a fascinating three-set tussle
Defending champion Belinda Bencic and former two-time winner Elina Svitolina both fell in the opening round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday.
Bencic, who this week is ranked at a career-high No.4, was defeated 1-6 6-1 6-1 by Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and Svitolina succumbed to a 6-2 6-1 defeat at the hands of qualifier Jennifer Brady.
Bencic had seemed to be on the way to a comfortable victory as she dominated the first set, beginning the match by winning an astonishing 19 consecutive points. But Pavlyuchenkova dug deep to turn the match around, using her firepower to unsettle her opponent. After dropping her serve to begin the second set, Pavlyuchenkova swept the next six games to level the match and then took the first three games of the third set to put herself firmly in control.
“It’s tennis, sometimes it happens. You go out there and you just don’t feel anything which is frustrating because I’ve been practicing so hard, working. I don’t know, nothing seems to be working out for me,” said world No.31 Pavlyuchenkova, who last month reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.
“I just kept on fighting, still trying to hit every ball, trying to be there. Mentally I was quite positive, just playing point by point.
“I think it helped me going into the second set because I took that mentality, mindset of being positive and fighting, trying to do my thing. I was like, ‘You know what, doesn’t matter what the score is, just play’. Slowly just started to turn around, I started to find my game.”
An hour after the match, Bencic was still at a loss to explain the turnaround.
“I’m really not sure yet. I’m trying to analyse what went wrong or what was the turning point. At this point I still don’t know what happened. Still looking for an answer. I really tried to focus, tell myself that I have to keep going. I’m not sure if mentally I kind of underestimated her after or something. I didn’t maybe expect her to play that well, to kill so many shots.”
A winner in 2017 and 2018 and a semi-finalist last year, world No.6 Svitolina has struggled this year, winning only four of her eight matches so far. That is in stark contrast to the manner in which she ended last season when she finished the year as runner-up at the WTA Finals.
“It was not a bad start, but then everything just went downhill,” said a devastated Svitolina. “I wish I could regroup better. In the end, I didn’t feel so good the ball. Just everything was all over the place today. It’s very tough to say now what happen, why did I play the way I play. Yeah, I wish I could play better here because I really love to compete here. I have great memories. Yeah, it’s very, very tough for me.”
Jennifer Brady comes through qualifying, gets her 2nd Top 10 win of the season, d. Svitolina 62 61 @DDFTennis.
“She plays well here. Maybe she just didn't get the best start from the beginning, and I was able to just keep my foot on the gas, kind of take over from there." pic.twitter.com/chA66M3vSY
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) February 18, 2020
It is the second straight year that Brady has qualified, and her victory today is only the second of her career over a Top 10 opponent after she stunned world No.1 Ashleigh Barty in Brisbane last month. What was the secret to her success over Svitolina today?
“I think just going out there and believing that I could win,” said the 24-year-old American. “Obviously respecting my opponent, but not to the point where I put the opponent on a pedestal, have to think that I have to play my best tennis in order to win. I was just focused on my game plan, myself. Think I competed well from the very beginning. I think I served pretty well throughout the whole match. Started off strong on the serve, was able to apply pressure on the return games. I was happy with the way I performed.”
Having already played three matches also meant that she was comfortable with her surroundings in Dubai.
“Yeah, it always helps,” added the world No.52. “Every match you play, you get more used to the conditions, the court, the balls. You start to get in that competitive match mode. Yeah, I mean, it’s great to obviously have, going into the second round here, four matches under my belt. Yeah, I think it’s pretty good.”
“We witnessed remarkable performances this afternoon by both Jennifer Brady and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “In particular, the way in which Pavlyuchenkova recovered from such an intimidating start by our defending champion was thrilling to watch, and the fact that already two Dubai champions have failed to get past the first round underlines how very strong our field of players is. It is impossible to guess who will be crowned as our 2020 champion on Saturday.”
— WTA (@WTA) February 18, 2020
Tournament director Salah Tahlak added, “Jennifer Brady clearly benefited from having already played three matches to reach the main draw, adjusting well to the conditions. Her victory, and that of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, underlines that there are no easy matches for any player in the main draw, even those who have succeeded at the very highest level here.”
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, which is owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free and held under the patronage of H. H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, begins with the WTA event which continues until 22nd February and is then followed between 24th and 29th February by the ATP tournament which features Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Gael Monfils and Roberto Bautista Agut.