Elena Rybakina beats Sofia Kenin on bad day for big guns in Dubai

Australian Open champion joins Svitolina and Bencic in making surprise first-round exits after defeat to in-form Rybakina

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 18:  Sofia Kenin of USA plays a backhand against Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan during Day Two of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium on February 18, 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
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Elena Rybakina extended her sparkling start to the season by defeating Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday evening.

Rybakina may have had a quick turnaround since playing in the St Petersburg Open final on Sunday, but the 20-year-old Kazakh showed few signs of fatigue to beat the American fifth seed 6-7, 6-3, 6-3.

After a title and two finals in four tournaments so far this season, Rybakina’s confidence is so high that even facing the newly crowned Australian Open champion was not going to faze her.

“Of course I believed. I didn’t think that she just won Australian Open because I know that now everyone can beat everyone,” Rybakina said.

That level of belief was required when Kenin took a one-set lead. After claiming an early break to lead 2-0, the American held the advantage until serving for the opener at 5-4, only to falter and allow Rybakina back into the contest.

Kenin regrouped to take the set in the tiebreak, but instead of fold, Rybakina responded in emphatic style, breaking in the seventh and ninth games of the second set to level the match.

Recent history suggested that from there, Rybakina would be the likely winner. After all, the world No 19 has won all seven of her three-set matches this season.

And so it proved, after Rybakina turned a tight deciding set in her favour when she claimed the decisive break in the eighth game before serving out the match.

One year ago, Rybakina was ranked No 192 in the world and is now settled inside the top-20. She puts her sharp rise and bright start to the season down to preparation. “I had good pre-season actually,” she said. “For the first time I did like six weeks of preparation. I feel good on court. Of course, I am tired today because of the flight [from St Petersburg], but still I feel confident.”

Rybakina will continue her Dubai campaign against Katerina Siniakova  on Wednesday after the Czech qualifier beat compatriot Karolina Muchova 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 on Court One.

Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina returns the ball to Sofia Kenin of the US during the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship, at the Dubai Tennis Stadium in the United Arab Emirates, on February 18, 2020.  / AFP / KARIM SAHIB

While it was a day that saw three of the top seeds tumble out of the tournament, Croatian eighth seed Petra Martic kept alive her title ambitions with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Chinese Taipei’s Su-Wei Hsieh.

Second seed Karolina Pliskova begins her campaign on Wednesday when she faces French qualifier Kristina Mladenovic in the first match on Centre Court. That match will be followed by Australian Open finalist Garbine Muguruza’s clash with another qualifier, Veronika Kudermetova.

Top seed Simona Halep opens the evening session when the two-time Grand Slam champion – and winner here in 2015 – takes on Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur.