Two-time former champion Venus Williams made a winning start to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday evening, beating Elena Vesnina 6-3 6-2.
The 2009 and 2010 champion’s victory set up a mouth-watering second round meeting with sixth seed Angelique Kerber or former world number one Ana Ivanovic.
“I definitely don't take for granted any win anymore,” said Williams. “Not that I used to. But now it's even more special, every win. My serve keeps improving pretty much every tournament. That always helps me.
“I think the more matches I'll play, the better I will feel. You know, in moments where I'm controlling the match, the better I will feel in moments where things are close.”
Earlier, Lucie Safarova claimed an impressive 6-3 7-5 victory over former Australian Open semifinalist Sloane Stephens.
It was a match that featured numerous fine rallies, but Stephens lacked aggression and fell victim to Safarova’s greater consistency and more reliable serve.
After the first three games went against serve, Safarova held to lead 3-1 and broke serve again to take the opening set.
She also held the upper hand for most of the second set, but still found herself looking at a third as Stephens made a late bid to turn the match around.
Stephens had to fight off two break points at 1-0 and two more which would have left her opponent serving at 5-3, but she then broke Safarova to lead 5-4 and served for the set.
But Safarova responded by breaking Stephens to love, and then broke a final time at 6-5 for the match.
Also into the second round is recent Pattaya winner Ekaterina Makarova, who overcame a solid challenge from Alisa Kleybanova to win 6-4 6-7 6-4.
The reward for the player currently coached by former French Open champion Anastasia Myskina is a second round clash with top seed and world number one Serena Williams.
Kleybanova, who reached the Top 20 for the first time after reaching the quarter-finals here in 2011, later had to leave the WTA Tour for a long period after she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
There was a huge surprise in the final round of the qualifying matches when Australian Open semifinalist and world number 19 Eugenie Bouchard was beaten 6-1 6-4 by Annika Beck.
Others to advance to the main draw were 2013 US Open semifinalist Flavia Pennetta, who overwhelmed Yvonne Meusburger 6-1 6-3, Karolina Pliskova, who beat Camila Giorgi 7-5 6-2, and Maryna Zanevska recovered from losing the first five games to defeat Mona Barthel 7-6 6-4.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
For further information about tickets, prices and the tournament visit http://www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com or phone the call centre on
+971 4 4172415.
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