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Abu Dhabi WTA Women's Tennis Open: Jabeur promises her best is yet to come

Abu Dhabi WTA Women's Tennis Open: Jabeur promises her best is yet to come

Dubai: Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur promised things can only get better after getting her new season to a perfect start with a 7-6 (3), 6-3 win over Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on the opening day of the 2021 Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open at the Zayed Sports City International Tennis Centre, on Wednesday.

The 26-year-old Tunisian — the highest-ranked women’s player on the women’s tour at No. 31 — saved two set points in the opening set before carving out a 6-3 result in the second and advance to a meeting either against China’s Wang Yafan or qualifier Kateryna Bondarenko, on Friday.

Riled with a few decisions going against her, Jabeur stuck to her gameplan firing over five times more winners than her Russian opponent to close out a memorable, yet predicted win against the current world No. 38.

In what proved to be a sort of rollercoaster ride, Jabeur pulled herself out of her slumber at 0-40 down to finish off the set and match with an ace following a delightful dropshot and a forehand winner.

“I had my moments out there. It was fun to be honest. It was fun that my drop shots were good today and I love that I made my few nice shots. I am feeling good, feeling fit and I feel amazing on the court. So hopefully I can continue playing this way and get even better,” the 15th seeded Jabeur hoped.

“For sure, this was a good win for me more because I know her well, and I knew this was going to be a tough one after we had practised with each other last week. But, I went out there with the spirit that I am going to give it all and I had my moments. That will never change,” she added.

World No. 31 Jabeur had won their lone previous meeting in three sets at the Dubai Duty Free Women’s Open in 2017. But this time around, the Tunisian got the job done in straight sets, needing an hour and 29 minutes to outlast her 38th-ranked opponent.

“Playing without fans can be tough. I remember my matches in Dubai and Doha. It’s always been amazing to play in front of the fans. And it’s a shame that there are no crowds as I know there are a lot of fans who want to come and watch,” she recounted.

“I feel it will be the same in Abu Dhabi, and hopefully if I advance to the quarter-finals or the semi-finals, perhaps they will let a few people to come in and watch. Or that’s at least what we can hope for,” Jabeur added.

Maria Sakkari of Greece was the second seed to advance on Wednesday with a 6-4, 6-2 triumph over Russian teenager Anastasia Potapova. The world No. 22 attained a measure of revenge with her 86-minute win over the No. 101-ranked Potapova to draw level with the Russian who had won their only previous meeting through a final-set tiebreak at the 2017 Miami Open qualifying rounds.

This time around, though, Sakkari was the player in control while hitting 18 winners to Potapova’s 12 and converting three of her eight break points.

“I worked a lot on my serve in, let’s say, the last nine months,” Sakkari related in her post-match press conference.

“It’s going really well, I have to say. I’m super pleased with the way I’m serving. I’m getting good results inside the court from my serve,” she added.

The 19-year-old Potapova, who was playing her first match on tour since reaching the third of her three consecutive WTA singles quarter-finals at Monterrey in March, was undone by 23 unforced errors, including six double faults, as the former Wimbledon junior champion was unable to repeat another upset.

Flipkens will next meet either top-seeded Sofia Kenin or Chinese qualifier Yang Zhaoxuan in her second round match on Friday.

Meanwhile, the eight qualifiers entering the main singles draw were also known with the Bondarenko twins leading the chase, although with lopsided wins. Anna Bondarenko had to dig in deep before a hard-fought 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 win over Italian Jessica Pieri, while sister Kateryna eased her way to a 6-1, 6-3 win over Greek girl Valentini Grammatikopoulou.

Others joining the main draw were Dubai regular Lucie Hradecka, Anastasia Gasonova, Lurezia Stefanini, Bianca Turati, Amandine Hesse and China’s Zhaoxuan Yang.

Results for final round of qualifying: Lucie Hradecka bt Carol Zhao 7-6 (7), 6-1; Anastasia Gasonova bt Ina Shibahara 4-6, 7-5, 6-2; Anna Bondarenko bt Jessica Pieri 4-6, 7-5, 7-5; Lucrezia Stefanini bt Irina Fetecau 1-6, 6-2, 7-6 (0); Kateryna Bondarenko bt Valentini Grammatikopoulou 6-1, 6-3; Bianca Turati bt Martina Caregaro 6-0, 6-3; Amandine Hesse bt Jodie Burrage 6-3, 6-2; Zhaoxuan Yang bt Despina Papamichail 6-2, 6-2; Donna Vekic bt Bernarda Pera 6-2, 2-6, 6-2; Paula Badosa bt Anastasija Sevastova 6-2, 5-7, 6-2; Barbora Krejcikova bt Jamie Loeb 6-1, 6-3; Leylah Fernandez bt Jasmine Paolini 6-4, 6-2.

First Round Main Draw: Daria Kasatkina bt Qiang Wang 6-2, 3-6, 6-2; Veronika Kudermetova bt Anett Kontaveit 7-5, 6-1; Maria Sakkari bt Anastasia Potapova 6-4, 6-2; Yulia Putintseva bt Martina Trevisan 6-3, 6-3; Kirsten Flipkens bt Laura Siegemund 5-7, 7-5, 6-4; Ons Jabeur bt Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-6 (3), 6-3; Ajla Tomljanovic bt Lin Zhu 6-2, 7-6 (0).