Vekic stuns Sabalenka, Swiatek overcomes Stephens in Dubai - GulfToday

Vekic stuns Sabalenka, Swiatek overcomes Stephens in Dubai

Donna Vekic in action against Aryna Sabalenka during their Dubai Open match. Reuters

Donna Vekic in action against Aryna Sabalenka during their Dubai Open match. Reuters

Amir Naqvi, Sports Editor

Reigning Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka suffered a shocking defeat in the second round against Donna Vekic, while top seed Iga Swiatek wasted no time finding her rhythm to dispatch former US Open champion Sloane Stephens at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday.

Fresh off her third consecutive Qatar Open title, World No. 1 from Poland faced multiple breakpoints in the first set but later ultimately prevailed in straight sets against Stephens 6-4, 6-4, after two hours on centre court.

The world No. 2 from Belarus made a strong start and won the first set in a nail-biting tiebreak, but later was unable to maintain the momentum, ultimately losing the match 7-6, 3-6, 0-6 to Vekic in two hours and 22 minutes.

Despite flashes of brilliance, Sabalenka wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Even after securing a crucial early break in the second, few anticipated the plot twist that unfolded. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the Croatian refused to yield. Despite the second set being poised at 3-3, Vekic broke her rival twice to level the match.

In the decisive third set, Vekic continued her dominance, sweeping Sabalenka without dropping a single game. Sabalenka, playing her first match since securing back-to-back titles in Melbourne, couldn’t find a way to overcome Vekic’s relentless performance on the court.

Vekic’s victory marks her sixth win in eight meetings with Sabalenka since 2016, including triumphs at the Tokyo Games in 2021 and the 2022 San Diego Open.

“We have played a couple of times before. Though I lead the overall head-to-head, that sting from her Australian Open win over me last year still lingers. Today’s victory feels particularly sweet, especially considering her strong start to the season. This win proves I can compete, and I’m thrilled to have pulled it off,” said Vekic during her post-match interview. “

Vekic will now meet Sorana Cirstea, who beat No. 13 seed Veronika Kudermetova 6-1, 6-4. “To be honest, I didn’t have big expectations coming to Dubai,” the Croatian said. “I told my coach that I’m taking this week as a half-holiday. I can tell you I’ve spent more time on the beach than on the court. Maybe that’s a good way to go forward.”

Sabalenka refused to dwell on the defeat, instead channelling her energy into preparing for the next challenge. “While I faced difficulties adapting to the court today, I managed to secure the first set and push ahead in the second. Even though things didn’t go my way this time, I’m determined to learn from this experience and come back stronger in Indian Wells.”

The third seed, Elena Rybakina, managed to steer clear of an upset in her match. Despite dropping the first set to Victoria Azarenka, Rybakina, who recently clinched the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open title and was the runner-up in Doha, showed resilience.

However, Azarenka’s discomfort became more apparent as the match went on. Eventually, Rybakina advanced to the next round after Azarenka retired from the match due to injury, with the score at 4-6, 6-2.

 “It was quite challenging to adapt and get acclimatised to the conditions. Despite just a one-hour flight from Qatar, the difference felt significant,” said World No. 4.

 “I’m truly pleased that I was able to secure the second set. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t complete the match. However, I started to feel much improved during the second set,” she added.

Eighth seed Maria Sakkari banished her Dubai demons by outplaying Navarro in straight sets 6-2, 6-4, finally securing her first victory in the Emirate after three years of frustration.

Sakkari will next face Jasmine Paolini, who recovered from a breakdown in both sets to defeat Leylah Fernandez 6-3, 6-4.

Wimbledon champ and seventh seed Marketa Vondrousova battled past Peyton Stearns 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 to advance into the next round. Vondrousova steamrolled through the first set against Stearns, dropping just one point on her serve. Despite a minor hiccup in the second set, Vondrousova roared back to dominate the third and secure victory.

“Dubai is a big tournament now,” she enthused, praising the event’s elevation to WTA 1000 status and the high-level competition from the get-go.

Ninth seed and 2022 champion Jelena Ostapenko reached the third round with a straight-sets victory over wild card Lulu Sun 6-4, 6-3.

Number 12th seed Liudmila Samsonova reached the round of 16 after Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova withdrew before the match.


Related articles