Defending champion Petra Kvitova was felled in her opening match at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Wednesday, losing 1-6 6-4 7-6 to Carla Suarez Navarro.
Venus Williams gained revenge for her defeat earlier this year in the Auckland final, overwhelming Ana Ivanovic 6-2 6-1 and then also taking to the court again, teaming with sister Serena but losing 6-4 4-6 10-4 to Australian Open finalists Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina.
Qualifier Flavia Pennetta also upset 2012 Dubai winner, world number three and second seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4 6-1, but 2011 Dubai champion Caroline Wozniacki ended the run of qualifier Annika Beck with a hard-fought 6-4 6-4 victory.
Fifth seeded Jelena Jankovic overcame both Lucie Safarova and difficult windy conditions to claim a 7-5 6-4 win, Alize Cornet also advanced with a 6-3 6-4 victory over Kirsten Flipkens, but fourth seed and 2013 finalist Sara Errani was beaten 6-2 5-7 6-1 by Sorana Cirstea.
Kvitova dominated the opening set against Suarez Navarro, led 4-2 in the second and served for the match at 5-4 in the third. But her persistent opponent refused to concede and eventually claimed a well-earned victory in a tense tiebreak.
“When I was leading in the second set, I lost very badly my serve, and I think that from that moment I was like a little bit mentally down and I was trying to come back,” said the number three seed. “I was close, but still she won the second set and it was tough to come back again in the third. In the tiebreak I just made two easy mistakes, and I think that was the thing what she did better.”
Radwanska rarely looked comfortable against Pennetta, who although having to qualify in Dubai is an experienced opponent who reached the semi-finals at the 2013 US Open. After building a 4-1 lead the former champion’s challenge fell away and Pennetta was able to claim a comfortable victory.
“The ball was really flying,” said Radwanska. “I didn't really feel the ball today at all. I think she was using the wind much, much better than I did. The conditions for me are tough. When I don't feel the ball, it's not good.”
Pennetta had lost her last three matches against Radwanska, and knew she had to be patient if she was to have the chance of victory.
“Sometimes when you play with a player like Agnieszka it's not easy because the ball, it always come back,” said Pennetta. “You have the feeling like you cannot win any points because it's like a wall, completely. So you're starting to be a little bit frustrating and starting to make so many mistakes, and today I just try to stay there every point, just to play every point in the same way, don't go away.”
Ivanovic was beaten in under an hour, and admitted that having played late the previous evening might have influenced her performance. But so did how well Venus played.
“It's hard to get much sleep when you finish that late and that kind of match, too,” said Ivanovic. “But she started really firing, you know, from the first moment on. It was just really hard. I tried to be aggressive and to put her under pressure, but I was just making way too many errors today.”
Wozniacki was stretched by Beck, who ousted Australian Open semi-finalist Eugenie Bouchard in the qualifying rounds and then upset former US Open champion Samantha Stosur in the first round. The former world number one struggled to close out the first set after leading 5-1 and failed to serve out the match at 5-3, but broke serve in the final game to claim a welcome victory.
“You know, she's a fighter,” said Wozniacki. “She gets a lot of balls back. She mixes the rhythm, the pace of the ball, and I just started to not really hit through but just place the ball, and all of a sudden she started to get some points back.”
“No player, no matter what their standing in the game, is guaranteed victory at what is one of the most strongly contested events on the WTA Tour,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman of tournament owners and organisers Dubai Duty Free. “The world number three has failed to win a match here this year, and another former Dubai champion, Caroline Wozniacki, had to work very hard indeed to overcome a valiant effort from Annika Beck.”
“Carla Suarez Navarro’s victory over our defending champion was an excellent indication of how strong the field here is,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “Every player, no matter how successful, knows that when they play the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships they have to produce their very best right from their opening match. Not all succeed.”
Play in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships WTA event runs until 22nd February and features world number one Serena Williams, former winners Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams, and Serbian former world number one Jelena Jankovic.
Play then continues between 24th February and 1st March with the action-packed ATP tournament that includes defending champion Novak Djokovic, five-time winner Roger Federer, recent Australian Open semi-finalist and last week’s Rotterdam winner Tomas Berdych, former US Open winner and recent Sydney champion Juan Martin Del Potro, and charismatic Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is owned and operated 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.