Aryna Sabalenka on revenge mission against Garbine Muguruza at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

In-form Belarusian overpowers Kontaveit 6-3, 6-2 to set up quarter-final clash with Spanish two-time Grand Slam champion

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - MARCH 10: Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus in action during her round of 16 match against Anett Kontaveit of Estonia during Day Four of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium on March 10, 2021 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
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A shot at revenge could not have come sooner for Aryna Sabalenka, who has a rematch with Garbine Muguruza in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships quarter-finals on Thursday, a week after falling to the Spaniard in the third round in Doha.

The third-seeded Sabalenka overpowered Estonian Anett Kontaveit 6-3, 6-2 in a mere 64 minutes on Wednesday and had to wait until the evening before Muguruza punched her ticket to the quarters with a 6-0, 6-4 result over reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek.

“This time I will be focused from the beginning of the match and I’ll put pressure on her [Muguruza]. I’ll just try to work for every point and do my best and make sure I can get this win back,” said Sabalenka.

Sabalenka's only three defeats this season have been tight three-setters, including the loss to Muguruza last week in the Qatari capital, and a fourth-round exit at the hands of Serena Williams at the Australian Open last month.

The in-form Belarusian, who is the sole top-eight seed still alive in the Dubai draw, conceded that she has been lacking that killer instinct against top players and hopes she’ll be ready to rectify that against the ninth-seeded Muguruza on Thursday.

“Against Serena and against Muguruza, two matches where I had the same situation that I couldn’t finish the match. Because I was serving with a break and then I just gave her the chance to come back in the match and then I lost myself completely,” said the 22-year-old Sabalenka.

“I spoke with my psychologist about this situation, because I feel like this has nothing to do with my game, this is just about my brain.

“I feel like I haven’t played against really top players for a long time so I kind of lost this feeling how to push them in the end, like how to finish the game.

“I hope that those two matches are enough to remind myself how to actually beat top players.”

Muguruza, who tops the match-wins leaderboard on tour this season with 15 victories to her name, is excited about her rematch with Sabalenka.

“Back-to-back matches is good; that means I’m playing the top players, that means I’m getting into the deep rounds. I’m looking forward for another battle,” said the two-time Grand Slam champion.

Earlier in the day, second-seeded Karolina Pliskova suffered a second heavy defeat in as many weeks to American Jessica Pegula, who was in ruthless form during the 53-minute rout.

The world No 36 crushed Pliskova 6-0, 6-2 to storm into the quarter-finals on her tournament debut, and will square off with Belgian 10th seed Elise Mertens for a place in the last four.

Pliskova has won back-to-back matches just once in her last seven tournaments and the ex-world No 1 admits she is yet to find a solution for her lack of consistency.

“Honestly I don’t know. I’m just going from playing one day quite good tennis to another day playing not so good,” the No 2 seed said after the match.

Pliskova noted that facing opponents with very different game styles in consecutive matches can play a factor but added: “Anyway I’m too old to just not adapt on these things and I just have to get used to it much faster.”

Meanwhile, Pegula has plenty to be proud of. Backing up a breakthrough run like the one she had at the Australian Open last month is no mean feat but the American has somehow made it look easy.

After reaching a maiden grand slam quarter-final in Melbourne, Pegula made the semi-finals in Doha last week and is now through to the quarters in Dubai.

“I definitely think I surprised myself a little bit with how well I’ve done,” confessed the 26-year-old from Buffalo.

Elsewhere, No 6 seed and 2019 champion Belinda Bencic joined the seeds exodus as she stumbled 6-1, 2-6, 7-5 to Russian world No 88 Anastasia Potapova. The 19-year-old will take on Barbora Krejcikova in the quarter-finals.

Coco Gauff made it two teenagers through to the last-eight stage as she eased past qualifier Tereza Martincova 6-4, 6-2.

Ons Jabeur suffered a disappointing exit when she was beaten by Jil Teichmann on Centre Court 6-3, 6-3.