DUBAI // The dreaded fourth quarter of this year’s WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships draw has claimed another victim.
First, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was knocked out by Ons Jabeur, then Coco Vandeweghe joined her through the exit door, knocked out by Alison Riske. On Tuesday, Karolina Pliskova, winner of two titles in the first seven weeks of the season, was turfed out as well, along with last year’s beaten Dubai finalist Barbora Strycova.
Winner in Doha last week, Pliskova, the second seed and world No 3, looked listless in her opening match of the tournament on Tuesday, and was dumped out 6-2, 6-4 by another form-player, Dubai-resident Kristina Mladenovic, who won the title in St Petersburg this month.
“I didn’t feel my tennis at all,” said Pliskova, who won the Brisbane International last month and boasted a 15-1 win-loss record for the year coming to Dubai. “The conditions here are totally different compared to Doha. “I was just playing really bad, so there is not much what you can do about it. I still had a chance in the second set to change things, but yeah, she played some good points. But I didn’t play almost anything today. A few aces, and that’s it.”
■ Day 4: Order of play
■ Garbine Muguruza: Achilles injury flares again
Pliskova’s biggest regret was the three break points she failed to convert in the 10th game of the second set when Mladenovic, serving for the match, found herself 40-15 down.
“She definitely wanted to be there and to win, and I could feel the pressure,” Mladenovic said. “The last game, I was serving quite well, and she returns a couple of first serves very deep. Then we went through the rallies, and I had to defend some break points.
“Kind of not lucky there, but I have to say I was very inspired with some variation. I was, like, Jesus, she got into the rhythm. I’ve got to try and change something.”
Thankfully for Mladenovic, her variations worked. Nothing, however, worked out for Strycova, who was stunned 6-3, 6-2 by Chinese wild-card Shuai Peng, leaving the fourth quarter of the draw without a seed.
In fact, with Garbine Muguruza retiring injured from her opening match on Tuesday and Yulia Putintseva losing to Catherine Bellis, only two of the eight seeds in the lower half have survived the first two rounds: No 10 Caroline Wozniacki, who defeated Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland 6-4, 6-2 to set up a clash with Ukraine’s Kateryna Bondarenko, and fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska.
The 2012 Dubai champion Radwanska got her campaign off to a sizzling start, brushing off Belgian qualifier Elise Mertens 6-3, 6-2 to set up a third-round clash with American teenager Bellis, who defeated German Laura Siegemund 7-5, 7-6.
In the top half of the draw, top seed Angelique Kerber opened her campaign with a 6-4, 6-3 win over German compatriot Mona Barthel. She next meets Monica Puig in the third round in a repeat of the 2016 Rio Olympic final.
This will be their first meeting since the Puerto Rican Puig defeated the German 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 for the gold medal, but Kerber will said that result will have no bearing on this match.
“For sure, she’s a tough player and she’s playing really aggressive,” Kerber said. “I know that from the match in Rio. But for me it’s the same ... I go out there trying to play my game again, and I will not thinking too much about the match in Rio. She played unbelievable match and she won it.
“So tomorrow I will try to go out there and win the next one.”
Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE
Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheNationalSport