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Thrills and upsets on opening day of Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

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DUBAI: Aliaksandra Sasnovich staged a dramatic fightback to defeat Ekaterina Makarova 0-6 7-5 6-4 and reach the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Sunday.

Makarova has been ranked in the top 10 and last year she enjoyed wins over former world No. 1s Caroline Wozniacki, Karolina Pliskova and ninth-ranked Julia Goerges, as well as victories the year before over world No. 1 Angelique Kerber and No. 2 Simona Halep. And she appeared to be coasting to victory against Sasnovich as she led by a set and 4-1. But in a stunning turnaround, Sasnovich swept six of the next seven games to level the match, and then she recovered from 0-2 in the third set before winning the final four games.

The first seed to fall was No. 10 Anastasija Sevastova, beaten 6-4 6-2 by Su-Wei Hsieh, former finalist Alizé Cornet reached the second round by beating Timea Babos 6-4 6-3, and Kristina Mladenovic lined up a clash with top seed Naomi Osaka by beating Fatma Al Nabhani 6-1 6-1.

Naomi Osaka

Osaka is playing her first tournament since winning the Australian Open and becoming the world No. 1, but she does not see being at the top of the rankings as her priority.

“Yeah, of course, I was really happy [to reach No. 1],” she said in Dubai on Sunday. “But I feel like, I don’t know… After the initial happiness, because it feels like a dream, and of course [when] you’re little, you want to be No. 1. That’s one of the things that comes out of your mouth whenever someone asks what your dream is. [But] I don’t know, I have that moment of happiness, then I just wanted to practice more.

“I don’t want to say I don’t care about being No. 1. Winning tournaments is always the number one priority. I feel like if you can do that consistently, you’re going to be No. 1 no matter what. Rankings aren’t really my goal.”

“We are honoured to have the US and Australian Open champion, Naomi Osaka, play her first tournament as the world No. 1 here in Dubai, said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “She now faces the challenge of being the player that everyone wants to beat and it will be very interesting to see how she deals with the pressure that presents.”

The tournament is now well underway, with the prospect of many thrilling battles over the coming days.

“The tournament is only hours old and already we have seen great drama and an upset,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “With nearly every top player in the world competing for the trophy we can be certain of many more thrilling battles in the days ahead. Centre court tickets for each of the first four days are only 55 Dhs and entry to the outside courts is free, giving everyone the opportunity to see their favourite stars up close.”

The WTA event continues until 23rd February and features nine of the world’s top 10, including world No. 1, Australian Open and US Open champion Naomi Osaka, 2019 Sydney champion and Australian Open runner-up Petra Kvitova, two-time Dubai champion Elina Svitolina, 2019 Brisbane winner and Australian Open semi-finalist Karolina Pliskova, 2018 Grand Slam winners Caroline Wozniacki, Simona Halep and Angelique Kerber and former Grand Slam champions Garbine Muguruza and Jelena Ostapenko.

The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free, and held under the patronage of H. H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Sport Desk

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