Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka saw her 13-0 undefeated start to the season come to an end as she squandered a 6-0, 3-1 lead in a Dubai quarter-final defeat to Barbora Krejcikova on Thursday.
Sabalenka had not lost a match in 2023 coming into the clash, winning two titles in Australia in January, including a maiden Grand Slam trophy.
But that streak was snapped as Krejcikova scooped a 0-6, 7-6(7/2), 6-1 victory to set up a semi-final clash with American No.3 seed Jessica Pegula.
The 24-year-old Belarusian will now fly home to Miami before heading to Indian Wells, where she hopes to recapture her title-winning form.
“Probably there will be less attention (now that the streak is over). It doesn’t matter, I lost it,” Sabalenka told AFP after her defeat.
“Barbora deserved it, she played great tennis and I will just keep working and keep getting better; make sure that Indian Wells will be a better result.”
Many were predicting a Dubai final between the world’s top two, Iga Swiatek and Sabalenka, who has openly declared her ambition to dethrone the top-ranked Pole.
“I really would like to see that happening (playing finals against Swiatek) but first of all I have to work hard and I have to focus on myself,” said Sabalenka.
“You cannot predict anything in tennis, especially women’s tennis, but I really want to see that I’ll work really hard to make sure that this is going to happen.”
Krejcikova – a runner-up in Dubai in 2021 – lost the first seven games of the contest and needed 44 minutes before she finally got on the board, holding serve for 1-1 in the second set.
The 2021 French Open champion fell behind 1-3 but clawed her way back, forcing a decider.
Krejcikova kept up the momentum as she broke Sabalenka twice for a 5-1 advantage and she knocked out the world number two in under two hours.
It was the Czech’s first win over Sabalenka in three meetings and it earned her a showdown with Pegula, who received a walkover into the final four after her opponent Karolina Muchova withdrew from the tournament with an abdominal injury.
“I was just fighting for every ball. I’m never going to leave a fight in any match that I’m playing, any score that is there. Definitely the Czech fans, they really helped,” said Krejcikova.
‘No pressure’ on Gauff
Meanwhile, Coco Gauff said she will approach her semi-final against Swiatek with “no pressure” despite her 0-5 losing record against the world number one.
Gauff has never taken a set off of Swiatek in any of their previous five meetings –- including a defeat in last year’s French Open final –- but the 18-year-old is relishing the opportunity to face her nemesis once again on Friday.
Three-time Grand Slam champion Swiatek received a walkover into the Dubai semi-finals due to the withdrawal of Karolina Pliskova, who is suffering from a viral illness.
Gauff secured passage to the second WTA 1000 semi-final of her career with a composed 6-2, 7-5 victory over fellow American Madison Keys, and will be trying to reach the championship match at this level for the first time.
“She’s playing at the top of her game. Well, I don’t know, because last year we said the same thing. She’s playing really well,” said Gauff of Swiatek, who has dropped a mere total of eight games in her last five matches.
“It’s going to be a challenge. But, to be honest, I think it’s a good match-up just to see where I can maybe improve on. There’s no pressure for me.”