Iga Swiatek stays on track for Middle East double after reaching Dubai Tennis semi-finals

World No 1 shows her class in straight-sets win over Australian Open finalist Qinwen Zheng

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If Iga Swiatek does go on to complete the Middle East Masters double, no one could accuse her of doing it the easy way.

Straight from winning her third straight Qatar Open title last Saturday, the world No 1 was on a plane to the UAE to compete in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Swiatek, along with the other top eight seeds in Dubai, was afforded a bye through to the second round so she at least had Monday to adjust. Since starting her tournament, though, she's faced nothing but top opposition.

First up was Sloane Stephens, a player who may now be ranked just outside the top 40 but is starting to show signs of the form that took her to the US Open title in 2017 and up to third in the world.

Then came world No 20 Elina Svitolina – a two-time champion in Dubai who has surged back up the rankings since returning in April last year from having a baby.

So on to Thursday and the quarter-finals, where Swiatek faced one of the brightest young stars on the WTA Tour and last month's Australian Open finalist, Qinwen Zheng.

Once again, the top seed displayed her class to emerge victorious 6-3, 6-2 even if the match was much closer than the scoreline suggested.

Swiatek started fast, breaking Zheng's serve immediately with her only break point of the opening set. Zheng had one break point of her own in the next game but was unable to take it, and with neither player offering any further opportunities on serve, it was the Pole who claimed a 1-0 lead.

The margins were similarly close for half of the second set as world No 7 Zheng failed to convert on her first break opportunity in the fourth game. Yet, Swiatek made no mistake when given an opening in the next game, and that seemed to take the wind out of Zheng's sails.

From there, Swiatek seized all the momentum, winning four straight games to seal her seventh successive victory in 86 minutes and her sixth in a row against Zheng.

"We always have tight matches, it's always intense and hard, so I'm proud of myself that I was really focused today and I kept pushing," Swiatek, 22, said.

"Every day I'm feeling more comfortable here. I've already played plenty of matches on this court, so I can feel at home and just focus on playing."

Swiatek, who reached the final last year, is bidding to become just the third woman to win the Qatar Open and Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in the same season, following in the footsteps of two legends: Martina Hingis, who accomplished the feat in both tournaments' inaugural years in 2001, and Justine Henin in 2007.

Swiatek's potential double would be even more impressive as it would be achieved while both the Doha and Dubai tournaments hold Masters 1000 status, thus elevating the field to an elite level.

Should Swiatek advance to the final, her opponent will actually be the highest-ranked player she would face since Stephens in the second round.

Italian world No 26 Jasmine Paolini was handed a walkover when her opponent, fourth seed Elena Rybakina, withdrew from the tournament ahead of their quarter-final.

Rybakina has had an extremely busy start to the season and in particular the past few weeks. After winning the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open earlier this month, she travelled straight to Doha where she reached Sunday's final.

Paolini will face Romania's Sorana Cirstea in the last four after she staged a remarkable fightback against Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova. The seventh seed was in total control when she led 6-2, 5-1 but suffered a monumental collapse to lose 2-6, 7-6, 6-2, squandering six match points in the process.

"I'll be honest and I'll say I didn't expect to win this one being down a set and 5-1," Cirstea, the world No 22, said. "I looked over at the clock and I saw it was only one hour of play.

"I was having such great support, so I said, 'OK, let's try to win one more game for the public, make it a little bit longer'. I think that took the pressure away from me. I started to find my game. I'm very happy to pull this win through."

Updated: February 22, 2024, 6:44 PM