DUBAI // Caroline Wozniacki wobbled and Jelena Jankovic jangled her nerves in their opening matches of the Dubai Tennis Championship but two of the leading ladies of the sport eventually displayed the credentials that have taken them to the top of their profession.
The top-seeded Wozniacki and Jankovic, the former world No 1, were both vulnerable to an ignominious early departure from this elitist gathering but the two opponents who had them on the ropes were unable to land the killer punches. Slovakia's Dominka Cibulkova's chances of upsetting Wozniacki evaporated when she squandered a set point after dominating the second set of their 6-2, 7-6 battle but Aravane Rezai came much closer to springing a second-round shock.
The 21st-ranked Frenchwoman, who won her first two WTA Tour titles last year, dominated the early part of her match against a sluggish Jankovic who admitted to finding it hard to adjust from the sub-zero temperatures of her native Serbia. Even after Jankovic had spirit-edly battled back in the second set to draw level, Rezai looked the more likely to take the decider. She was first to break and was twice within a point of being able to serve for the match before the greater experience of Jankovic eventually prevailed.
"It wasn't easy for me out there," said Jankovic, relieved to grind out a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory. "But the most important thing is to get through a tough round like this, and it gives me confidence to continue. I am really happy about the way I managed to fight." Jankovic was impressed with her opponent's performance and predicted a bright future for the Frenchwoman. "She was hitting the ball really hard and flat early on and was playing really well," said the sixth seed.
"My legs were not moving, especially that first set and most of the second set. I just started moving a little bit better in the third for some reason. I just felt so slow, and I couldn't really react. I was late on every shot. I was letting her dictate the points. "I said to myself 'I need to get going somehow' but I didn't know how to do it. Then, little by little with the positive attitude I was showing, I was able to stay strong and somehow get through.
Wozniacki, who rose to a career-high No 3 in the world after last month's Australian Open, was given a wake up call by Cibulkova, who raced into a 5-1 lead in the second set after being comprehensively outplayed in the first. "I thought maybe I was going to have to play a third set," said Wozniacki, relieved that those fears under the midday sun were misplaced. "I decided I needed to start playing more aggressively with a bit more depth and that proved to be the key."
The Danish teenager will today meet Israel's Shahar Peer who beat last year's beaten finalist Virginie Razzano by an emphatic 6-2, 6-2 margin. Na Li, the Chinese player who broke into the world's top 10 on the strength of her surprising journey through to the semi-finals of the Australian Open last month, was another of the top seeds who averted the strong threat of a quick exit. Li lost the first three games of the deciding set of her match against Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and the momentum was so strongly with the Spaniard at that stage that she looked sure to claim a third-round date with the 11th-seeded Marion Bartoli.
The response from Li was powerful, however, and the reeling off of five straight games propelled her to a 7-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org