Sabalenka loses in Dubai on return to action

February 21, 2024

DUBAI: Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka struggled in blustery conditions and crashed to a 6-7(5) 6-3 6-0 second-round defeat by Donna Vekic on her return to action at the Dubai Tennis Championships on Tuesday.

Belarusian tennis playerAryna Sabalenka can be seen in this image. — AFP/File

Sabalenka, who won her second Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park last month, looked on track for a routine victory after the Belarusian edged a tight opening set and grabbed an early break in the next but Vekic had other ideas.

The Croatian, who came into the contest having won five of her previous seven meetings with the world number two, was one point away from going 3-0 down in the second set but came up with a superb sliced winner from deep to draw level at deuce.

It proved to be the turning point of the match as Vekic won 12 of the next 13 games to secure the victory and set up a clash with Sorana Cirstea, who beat Veronika Kudermetova 6-1 6-4. “I feel the conditions here don’t fit me well at all. It’s really tricky for me to compete here in Dubai. A really tricky court for me,” Sabalenka said.

“The whole match I was leading, I was winning. I won the first set. I was up with break. I didn’t feel like I was up. The level was so bad today from me. “She also didn’t play her best. At the end, she stepped in and started playing aggressively because she saw I’m not playing my best at all. That’s why she came back from that score that easy, because it was just like who’s more lucky?” Vekic said she never lost belief despite being a set and a break down, as she savoured her eighth victory over a top-five player.

“In tennis, I swear it’s not over until it’s over,” said the 27-year-old Vekic, who is ranked 31 in the world. “Matches can turn around with one point. “To be honest, I wasn’t really thinking... These big leads don’t mean nothing anymore. You just focus and play each game as if it’s the last.”

Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova was made to work hard by American Peyton Stearns before sealing a 6-1 5-7 6-2 victory, before in-form former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko eased past Swiss Lulu Sun 6-3 6-3.