Elina Svitolina signed a positive debut for her campaign at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, where she plays as the seventh seed. Taking on qualifier Zheng Saisai in their second round match, the Ukrainian needed to survive an attempted comeback during the first set, but eventually, she managed to regain total control of the match to stroll over the second set with ease, winning the right to advance to the third round.
Zheng had scored important points during the match opening up the court with shots on the lines, and hitting well-placed volleys from the net, but too often enduring Svitolina's pressure during the rallies.
Svitolina survives comeback scare, takes the first set
Since the beginning, the match's momentum seemed all in Svitolina's favor. Without giving any chance to her opponent, she quickly went a double-break up, taking the lead with a comfortable score of 4 games to 0.
From then on, though, things didn't go as easily for the seventh seed. Zheng reacted well, holding her serve for the first time and immediately gaining 3 break points, the first of her match. Svitolina saved the first two with a huge help from her serve, but an aggressive return from the Chinese on the third granted her one of the breaks back.
It seemed a useless effort, as the Ukrainian refused to give up her advantage as easily, and broke Zheng again right away to gain the chance to serve for the set. However, she couldn't pull out a good performance on serve, and a couple of crucial errors helped the Chinese to sign the third break in a row.
Serving to stay in the set, and falling 15-40 down, the Chinese saved both set points with flawless serve-and-volley, then two errors from the 7th seed let her close the game with a hold.
Serving for the set for the second time, once again Svitolina faltered, and let Zheng take full control of the rallies in the game, which ended in another break for the Chinese, who leveled off the score to 5-5.
There ended the attempted comeback of the qualifier. Too many errors from her let Svitolina win another break, and this time she didn't hesitate, successfully serving out the set with a 7-5 score line.
Svitolina storms ahead to claim the match
All had been easier for the 7th seed during the second set. Once again, she started with a break, and consolidated it right away. She seemed as in focus as she had been in the very first part of the match, as she kept playing aggressively to break Zheng again, and held for a 4-0. Zheng reacted, and held her serve to love, but Svitolina's improved defense made it difficult for her to open up the court to score points like she had done during the first set.
Coming to the net to score important points, Svitolina held for a 5-1 lead, and the chance to serve for the match. Chance she didn't need, as Zheng seemed tired to fight as she went to serve to stay in the set, quickly falling 0-40 down, after a double-fault and two well-placed winners from her opponent. A lucky net-cord found the Chinese off-balance on the first one, and Svitolina closed the match with a 7-5, 6-1 score line after one hour and ten minutes of play.
Next for Svitolina
The 22-year-old will meet USA's Christina McHale, who defeated 13th seed Kiki Bertens in the first round, and Naomi Osaka in the second round, for a place in the quarterfinals. The American lead the head to head with two wins and one loss, winning their only match on hard court, but the Ukrainian had won their last meeting, in Marrakech in 2015.