It’s been an action-packed start to the Abu Dhabi Open.
Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, Aryna Sabalenka, and Garbine Muguruza all advanced into the second round of the tournament, but all had to fight to get there.
Conditions have been warm, yet breezy in Abu Dhabi this week and the ball has been flying fast on the court.
Multiple players have flagged the lightning speed of the courts. And some, like Karolina Pliskova, have used it to their advantage. The former world No.1 combined her power with the speed of the courts to despatch Despina Papamichail in straight sets.
Britain’s Heather Watson followed suit beating fellow Brit Jodie Burrage in straight sets to advance to the second round.
16-year-old Coco Gauff continued to amaze us with her skill and will also advance into round 2 after beating Ulrikke Eikeri 6-0 6-1.
The round’s biggest upset came when 8th seed Marketa Vondrousova was knocked out of the tournament by Su-Weh Hsieh.
Hsieh rallied from 3-2 down in the final set to force a dramatic tie break.Embed from Getty Images
Su-Weh Hsieh kept her cool and took four breaks off the world No.21 to win the match 6-3 3-6 7-6(3).
Hsieh spoke after the match of how she used her off-season to unwind by swimming with Green Sea Turtles native to the islands around Chinese Taipei.
“They are super friendly,” Hsieh said in her post-match press conference. “You can swim with them. But you are not allowed to touch.”
“If you touch, $10,000 for fine! So I went there and almost every beach we went we could see the green turtles. It was amazing.”
Hsieh will now face off against Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk, another teenager who cruised her way into the second round with a straight-sets win over decorated doubles champion Lucie Hradecka.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing for some of the big names at this weeks tournament. Sofia Kenin certainly had to fight to get through to round two.
Sofia Kenin vs. Zhaoxuan Yang
Although a tough start for the Australian Open champion, she showed grit to quell Zhaoxuan Yang’s advances and take the advantage after a gruelling set that lasted 1 hour 59 minutes.
But her opponent, Yang, was the star of the show. Having not faced off against a top 30 opponent before, Yang held off 13 breakpoints in the match to parry Kenin’s advances.
But it was the Americans nerve and powerful backhand that ultimately won her the match.
Challenging from the off, Yang troubled the world No.4 with three break point chances in the opening game.
She held strong to fend Kenin’s powerful backhands until Kenin found a setpoint opening at 6-5.
But using her precision and accuracy, Yang held on to save the set and push Kenin into an early tiebreaker. Although she could not hold out, and as Kenin amassed 3 points on the bounce, she found her rhythm.
The American picked up the pace, winning a double break to go 3-0 up at the start of the second set.
Yang took one back against Kenin’s serve. But the American’s power shone through as she tore away from her opponent in the final exchanges.
But Yang fought to the end saving five match points and had a shot to break Kenin in the final game.Embed from Getty Images
“It was the first match, obviously a bit of nerves, I had to find my groove,” Kenin said, during her post-match press conference. “Conditions weren’t easy, it was quite windy. The first set was tough for me. I couldn’t find the ball, I guess. But the second set I started off strong“
Kenin’s 7-6(4) 6-2 win over Yang means she’ll advance to play Belgian Kirsten Flipkens in the second round of the Abu Dhabi Open.
Kristina Mladenovic vs. Garbine Muguruza
We predicted this one to be a belter of a match, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Although clinical on court, Garbine Muguruza had to come back twice in both sets to beat Kristina Mladenovic 2-6 4-6.
Mladenovic asked questions early and broke the Spaniard in the first game.
But Muguruza bounced back at 2-0 down and used her dominating service to build momentum. She saved a crucial breakpoint in the 3rd and subsequently broke Mladenovic three times to secure the first set.
Muguruza started the second set much better and held out to save three break points in a mammoth game that saw the pair trade five deuces. But the Spaniard again went behind first.
Mladenovic attacked again on her opponents serve and went 4-3 up, despite Muguruza parrying her advances twice before relenting.
That put some fire in the belly of the Spaniard who went rampant. Breaking her opponent twice in the final three games, Muguruza lumped pressure on Mladenovic and forced her to make five double faults in the last game to give Muguruza the win.
Converting 45% breakpoint chances during the match, and saving 80% of her breakpoints, Muguruza was very clinical on court today.
She’ll look to continue her momentum into the second round where she’ll take on Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
Aryna Sabalenka vs. Polona Hercog
Extending her winning streak to ten games on the bounce, Aryna Sabalenka moved into the second round of the Abu Dhabi Open with a 7-6(5) 6-2 win over Slovenian Polona Hercog.
Although it wasn’t a straightforward win for the Linz Open champion.
Hercog broke the Belarusian twice in the early stages of the match to go 2-5 up in an extraordinary set of tennis.
Under the kosh, Sabalenka showed grit to come back and defend 5 setpoint chances, break Hercog, and hold fast again on her own service.
And it was the Belarusian’s creativity that would pull her back into the match. Boxing her opponent into the depths of her court, Sabalenka returned used her deft slice to claw her way back to 6-6 and force the tie break.
And winning 5 points on the bounce, Sabalenka showed great resilience to come back and push on to win the opening set.
Bounding with momentum she struck early in the second set, winning a double break to go 3-0 up. And that was enough for the Belarusian to use her power to serve out the remainder of the game.
She’ll square off against Ajla Tomljanovic in the next round of the Abu Dhabi Open.
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