Top-seeded Elina Svitolina suffered a “disappointing” 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 defeat to Svetlana Kuznetsova in her Dubai opener on Tuesday as American teen sensation Coco Gauff fought “fire with fire” to come through a tension-fuelled second round against Marketa Vondrousova.
Fourth-seeded Petra Kvitova, meanwhile, was forced to retire through injury from her evening clash with Jil Teichmann.
Kuznetsova rallied back from a set and an early break down to knock out the two-time champion and record her 21st match-win in Dubai –- the highest tally among active WTA players.
The 35-year-old Russian is a three-time runner-up in the UAE showpiece and next has a last-16 showdown with Barbora Krejcikova, who ousted former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko.
“Obviously the loss is very tough because I think I started the match quite good and I was feeling good going into the tournament and I really love to play here in Dubai. The result is really disappointing,” said the fifth-ranked Svitolina.
Contesting a seventh consecutive three-set match, Gauff needed two hours to dismiss the Czech 12th seed 3-6, 6-0, 6-4 and set up a third-round meeting with qualifier Tereza Martincova.
The contest took on an edge when 16-year-old Gauff complained to the umpire about how Vondrousova was catching her ball toss with her racquet instead of letting it bounce or capturing it with her hand, which she believed to be against the rules.
The incident sparked some tension – there was no apology from Gauff when she aimed a drive volley directly at Vondrousova’s body and the Czech also forewent the courtesy apology when she claimed a point via a lucky net cord.
“My personality, I fight fire with fire,” said Gauff. “I lost those two points that game, and she had wild screams, and I like to scream, so I screamed back.”
Gauff, who is ranked 38, turns 17 on Saturday, the day of the Dubai final and is keen to celebrate in style. “That’s definitely a big motivation,” said the Florida-based Gauff.
In an all-lefty night-session affair, Swiss debutante Teichmann secured passage to the third round when Kvitova was forced to withdraw midway through the second set.
A champion in Doha three days ago, Kvitova dropped the opening set 6-2 after receiving treatment for a right inner thigh injury. The 2013 Dubai winner led Teichmann 4-1 in the second set but Kvitova lost her break advantage and had to end the match two games later.
“Unfortunately since my semi-final in Doha I felt my adductor, with abdominal, and it didn’t get any better, and in the second set it just got a little bit worse and I felt pain almost everywhere on that right leg, so unfortunately I couldn’t really move how I wanted,” explained Kvitova after the match.
Third seed Aryna Sabalenka made quick work of Frenchwoman Alize Cornet while reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek enjoyed a winning debut in Dubai as she eased past Japanese lucky loser Misaki Doi 6-2, 6-4.
The Polish teenager will next tackle two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza, whom Swiatek has recently described as the player she’d like to face the most.
Over on centre court, second-seeded Karolina Pliskova let two match points slip her grasp in the second set before she regrouped to oust Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2.
Her reward is a rematch with American Jessica Pegula, who upset Pliskova at the Qatar Open last week.
Meanwhile, Belinda Bencic saw off Russian world number 34 Veronika Kudermetova 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 to book a last-16 clash with in-form teenager Anastasia Potapova, who took out American 11th seed Madison Keys.
Bencic won the title in 2019 and shared the podium with men’s winner Roger Federer who is making his long-awaited return to the court in Doha, following a 13-month absence due to knee surgery.
“It’s exciting for everyone,” said Bencic who turns 24 on Wednesday. “Everyone is counting the days. It’s good because he’s coming back on my birthday, which is really good and I wish him best of luck.”