Dubai 2018

Dubai 2018: Defending champion Svitolina sets repeat SF showdown with Kerber

Elina Svitolina will take on Angelique Kerber in the semi-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

angelique kerber
Angelique Kerber in action in Dubai Photo: Dubai Duty Free Championships

The defending champion and top seed at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, Elina Svitolina, needed only an hour and 22 minutes to beat the Japanese star, Naomi Osaka, 6-2, 6-4, and confirm her place in the semi-finals of the Premier 5 tournament.

Svitolina looked set to run away with the match in the early stages, after sweeping to a 5-0 lead, not even allowing her opponent a game point in the first four games.

But the momentum switched as Osaka gradually found her serve and began to hit her groundstrokes with more confidence, pace and accuracy. It was too late to save the first set, but she carried her momentum into the second, and earned an early break of serve, 4-1, before Svitolina re-asserted herself with a five-game run to seal the win.

The 23-year-old from the Ukraine has shown fine form this season already, opening with the Brisbane title and making the quarters at the Australian Open, before Petra Kvitova halted Svitolina in Doha last week.

She entered this match with a 2-1 deficit against Osaka, including losses in their previous two matches. However, Svitolina clearly likes the conditions in Dubai—she is now on a 10-1 run having reached the semis in 2016, too—and looking to her next match, she will carry plenty of confidence there too.

For she next takes on Angelique Kerber, who she beat in the Dubai semis last year when the German was world No1. Indeed, Svitolina has won four of her last meetings against Kerber: No wonder she sounded confident after her win today:

“Yeah, definitely I’m happy the way I’ve been handling the pressure and tough moments. I had two good matches. I cannot say was amazing tennis, but when I needed, I was stepping up and playing well.”

Kerber, though, has looked impressive in Dubai this week, and beat the No3 seed, Karolina Pliskova, to make the semis. Just one break decided the first set, 6-4, and then Kerber broke to love to lead 1-0 in the second set as her opponent struck two double-faults. Pliskova conceded another break for the set and match, 6-3, without having worked a single break chance against Kerber.

The German, who has accumulated 34 weeks at No1 over the last year and a half, has returned to the kind of form that took her to the top with Major titles in Australia and New York. She has now won 15 matches this year for just two losses, and on top of that, she went unbeaten in four singles and three doubles matches in the first week of the season at the Hopman Cup.

Thus far, Kerber has lost only 16 games in three matches in Dubai, and has spent little more than three hours on court. No wonder she is happy with her performance so far:

“I think that I was playing quite good today. Especially I served well. I think that was in the end the key for the match. She hit the ball really hard, serving good. I was trying to play good returns back, then just play my game.”

Meanwhile, at the other end of the draw, No2 seed Garbiñe Muguruza looked remarkably spry after a 2am finish to her quarter-final last night.

She returned for the early evening session to put in a strong performance in the opening set against the charismatic French player, No4 seed Caroline Garcia. After an exchange of breaks, the tall Spaniard got the extra breakthrough for the opener, 7-5.

With the momentum behind her, she again nullified a break by Garcia, and pinned the despondent French player down with penetrating play from the baseline. The Wimbledon champion surged through the final stages with two more breaks for the match, 6-2, having notched up almost twice as many points in that second set. Garcia, meanwhile, ended the match having leaked 42 errors compared with just 15 winners.

Muguruza was keen to keep her post-match interview short, no doubt anxious to get plenty of rest and recuperation after her previous night’s efforts:

“It’s tough. I was thinking about going straight to breakfast after I finished last night’s match! But these things happen, and I need to be prepared, so I felt good today.”

Muguruza will play either Elena Vesnina or Daria Kasatkina in her attempt to reach a second final in a row: She lost to Kvitova in the Doha final last week.

Tickets are available online at: www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com/en/tickets

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