Elina Svitolina said there were no excuses for her shock defeat to Svetlana Kuznetsova after the top seed crashed out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships second round on Tuesday.
Svitolina, 26, is one of the most successful players in the tournament's history. A two-time champion, in 2017 and 2018, the Ukrainian has also reached a further two semi-finals from six visits. However, she has now lost back-to-back matches in Dubai following last year's thrashing by American Jennifer Brady.
Yet, while the defeat to Brady was a one-sided affair – Svitolina lost 6-2, 6-1 – the loss to Kuznetsova might well rankle more.
The world No 6 appeared to be in cruise control by the time she took the first set. She had claimed two breaks, faced no break points, and wrapped up the opener on her first set point. It was about as polished a performance as Svitolina could have hoped for.
When Svitolina broke in the first game of the second set, she appeared on course for a routine straight sets win. Instead, Kuznetsova broke straight back and the 35-year-old Russian continued to raise her level to ensure a tight and competitive set.
Then came the remarkable turnaround as Kuznetsova reeled off seven straight games – the first two winning her the second set, the other five putting her on the verge of victory.
Svitolina avoided the dreaded 'bagel' by getting a game on the board to trail 1-5 but she was too far back to mount a comeback as Kuznetsova earned a 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 win in one hour and 52 minutes.
A small portion of the outcome of the match can be attributed to a drop in intensity from Svitolina, but it was predominantly Kuznetsova's raised level that proved the difference.
She may be in the latter stages of her career, but the grit and determination that helped make Kuznetsova a two-time Grand Slam champion remain.
Despite the obvious disappointment of another early exit, Svitolina was magnanimous in defeat.
“The loss is very tough because I started the match well and I was feeling good going into the tournament," Svitolina said. "I love to play here in Dubai, so I’m disappointed it went this way.
"Sometimes it’s just tennis that sometimes you play well and a few points can turn around a match and your opponent starts to play better. For sure it hurts. I have to analyse and work on my fitness and my game. There are still many tournaments this year, so I have to look forward.”
With the victory, Kuznetsova, who is a three-time finalist in Dubai, collected her 21st win at the tournament – more than any other player still active on the WTA Tour. She faces Barbora Krejcikova in Wednesday's third round after the Czech easily defeated former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-1.
"I don't think age makes any difference, I feel like I'm just as fit as all the other girls," said Kuznetsova, who is competing in her 20th season on the WTA Tour. "I have no doubts that I can compete against the best, so I just want to play and enjoy my game."
At the opposite end of the draw, second seed Karolina Pliskova advanced to the third round, but she didn't make it easy for herself.
Similar to Svitolina, the Czech world No 6 dominated Anastasija Sevastova in the first set and served for the match in the second, only for Latvian to claw her way back into the match by winning the tiebreak. However, Pliskova regrouped to once again assert her dominance to win 6-3, 6-7, 6-2.
"I had a lot of chances, especially in the second set," said Pliskova, who plays American Jessica Pegula in the next round. "I thought I could win much faster. On the other hand, I don't have to go and practise because if I won in straight sets I would have to go, so that's good.
"It gave me strength that I was able to fight back after that unfortunate second set and still play quite good tennis after that."
Joining Svitolina in heading for the exit in Dubai was fourth seed Petra Kvitova, who was forced to retire during her match against Jil Teichmann. The Czech was clearly struggling with a leg injury and called for the trainer after losing the first set 6-2 before calling it quits at 4-3 in the second set.
Meanwhile, the pick of Wednesday's third round matches sees eighth seed and French Open champion Iga Swiatek take on ninth seed and former world No 1 Garbine Muguruza after both players comfortably advanced in straight sets.