Elina Svitolina boosts title chances after another solid win at Abu Dhabi WTA Women's Tennis Open

Ukrainian second seed breezes past veteran Vera Zvonareva 6-4, 6-1

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 09:  Elina Svitolina of Ukraine  plays a forehand against  Vera Zvonareva of Russia during her Women's Singles match on Day Four of the Abu Dhabi WTA Women's Tennis Open at Zayed Sports City on January 09, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

Elina Svitolina has reason to be quietly confident of her title chances at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women's Tennis Open.

The Ukrainian, seeded second at the Zayed International Tennis Centre, is no stranger to glory in the UAE having twice won the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, in 2017 and 2018. Then there's her familiarity with the Abu Dhabi courts, which she has previously used during pre-season.

While past achievements and experience may not automatically lend themselves to present success, there should also be plenty of optimism within the context of the here and now, starting with the luck of the draw.

Svitolina's rivals in the top half must be peering over with envy at her possible route to the final. Whereas seven of the eight players left in the top half are all seeded – and the odd one out is a former world No 10 – Svitolina's section is somewhat more favourable. Aside from Ekaterina Alexandrova, seeded 17th and Svitolina's third-round opponent, the next highest-ranked player is No 46 Veronika Kudermetova.

More than happy memories and a kind draw, though, Svitolina's confidence should come primarily from her fine form in the capital so far. After a routine win in the first round against Jessica Pegula, the Ukrainian stepped it up another gear to cruise past veteran Vera Zvonareva on Saturday.

Zvonareva, a former world No 2, is not the force she once was but she remains as scrappy and competitive as ever. She was no match for Svitolina, though, as the second seed claimed a 6-4, 6-1 win in one hour and nine minutes.

"I think I handled the pressure well because we were both playing at a good level in the first set," Svitolina, 26, said. "Then I started playing quite aggressive and didn’t let her come back into the match. I’m very proud."

One of the players Svitolina could meet in the final is fifth seed Garbine Muguruza, who is part of the congested opposite side of the draw. The Spanish two-time Grand Slam champion is also showing impressive form in Abu Dhabi following successive straight-sets wins, the most recent coming against Belarus' Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-1, 6-4 on Saturday.

"So far, I’m happy with the way things are going as it’s the first tournament of the year and it’s been a long time since my last match," Muguruza, 27, said. "I feel happy with how my tennis is going. The first tournament can always be tricky to get the rhythm back so happy to be in the third round."

Muguruza will be involved in one of the most exciting ties of the third round when she takes on Greek ninth seed Maria Sakkari, who dispatched American teen sensation Cori Gauff 7-5, 6-2 in a high-quality contest.

Flying under the radar in the bunched-up top half, sixth seed Elena Rybakina produced another solid performance by defeating China's Xiyu Wang 6-4, 6-4.

Rybakina, who enjoyed a great start to 2020 by reaching four finals in her first five events including in Dubai, has warned her rivals that she is still someway short of her best.

"Today was a tough match, it’s still the beginning of the year so it’s not easy. But in the important moments I played good," said the 21-year-old Kazakh, who faces Russia's Daria Kasatkina in the third round.

"I think with every match I will get better and soon I can show my best. I’d say I’m at around 50 per cent right now. It’s difficult to analyse but still not close to my best."

Elsewhere in Sunday's last-16 lineup, top seed Sofia Kenin faces 13th seed Yulia Putintseva, Ukraine's Marta Kostyuk takes on Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia, and Spain's Sara Sorribes Tormo plays Russian qualifier Anastasia Gasanova, who scored the shock of the tournament by eliminating third seed Karolina Pliskova.

But arguably the most compelling of Sunday's match-ups pits fourth seed Aryna Sabalenka against Tunisian 15th seed Ons Jabeur.