Garbine Muguruza completed a Middle East double over Caroline Garcia, defeating the Frenchwoman for a second time in seven days to reach the semi-finals in Dubai on Thursday.
Muguruza had come back from a set down to beat Garcia in the Doha quarter-finals last week, but this time was more clinical in her victory, that was briefly interrupted by light rain surprising the crowd in a typically dry Dubai.
Garcia entered her Dubai quarter-final showdown with Muguruza having held 18 of her 20 service games throughout the week but the French No. 5 seed dropped serve late in the opening set to fall behind and ultimately lost the clash 7-5, 6-2 committing a slew of unforced errors.
The third-ranked Muguruza had finished her previous match against Catherine “CiCi” Bellis just 17 hours earlier, at 2:00am but managed to recover in time for her triumph over Garcia.
“I was a little bit upset because, you know, you can play late, but it was very late. I ended up sleeping at 4:00am, there’s nothing to eat…” explained the Spaniard, who next takes on Russia’s Daria Kasatkina in Friday’s semi-finals.
“Today I somehow fought with a little bit of the tiredness yesterday. That’s it. One day is going to go my way, one day is going to go against me.”
Muguruza says she had asked to play on another court after the Centre Court matches all lasted longer than expected.
“I think it’s just TV. Obviously nobody thought that all the matches were going to be two hours and a half. But, yeah, they gave me that answer,” she added.
Speaking of her quarter-final success over Garcia, Muguruza said: “I felt much better this match than the match we played in Doha. It’s always difficult because we played almost in the same week twice. When you play a top-10 player, and you beat second time in a row, it gives you a good sign that what I’m doing is right.”
Kasatkina, who saved two match points against Johanna Konta in the second round on Wednesday, reached the semi-finals with a 7-6 (5), 6-1 win over her fellow Russian Elena Vesnina, whom she calls her “Tennis Mama”.
The 20-year-old became the first Russian to make the Dubai semi-finals since Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2011.
This is Kasatkina’s second semi-final of the season, having also reached that stage at St. Petersburg earlier this month.
She trails Muguruza 0-2 head-to-head but their most recent meeting, in Brisbane in 2017, was a close encounter that ended 7-6 in the third the Spaniard’s way.
It’s going to be a case of déjà vu in Dubai on Friday as defending champion Elina Svitolina and German No. 6 seed Angelique Kerber face off in the semi-finals, in a rematch of their showdown here last year at the same stage.
Svitolina, the top seed in the Emirates this week, came back from 0-3 down in the second set to defeat Japanese big-hitter Naomi Osaka 6-2, 6-4 in Thursday’s quarter-finals in one hour and 22 minutes.
The 23-year-old is looking to capture a second trophy of the season, having lifted the trophy in Brisbane to kick off her 2018 with a bang, and takes a 6-5 head-to-head record lead over her next opponent Kerber.
Svitolina has been impressive in her title defence campaign so far this week.
“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,” said Svitolina, who beat lucky loser Wang Qiang in three sets in her opening match.
“Still I have semi-final ahead of me. I don’t want to say early. But, yeah, the way I was playing, it was enough to go through.”
Last year, Dubai was the biggest title Svitolina had won at the time and she went on to have a great 2017 where she also picked up Premier 5 trophies in Rome and Toronto, and reached the WTA Finals in Singapore.
Her success at the Aviation Club last season saw her collect $487,245 in prize money. Asked how she treated herself with that handsome sum, Svitolina said: “I took a new physio with me. Well, yeah, physio. Bigger team for me. Always investing, trying to invest in myself. Also I had nutritionist added to my team. These cost lots of money. I prefer to do that.”
Svitolina is coached by Frenchman Thierry Ascione, who also works with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Ascione doesn’t travel with her much and is only available to her during the time where Tsonga does not need him.
She often goes to work with him in Paris, where he is based, or he joins her at few tournaments, when possible. Instead, she travels with Andrew Bettles, who acts as a travelling second coach and hitting partner.
“This was actually the idea when I stopped with Iain Hughes. I wanted someone not full-time. I just wanted to stay really focused on what I have to do on the court, stay little bit, like, away from someone talking always on the court,” she explained.
“Last year, it really worked well.”
In town with a new coach this year is Kerber, who joined forces with Wim Fissette end of last season. The German ex-world No. 1 is enjoying a resurgence these past seven weeks following a forgettable 2017.
Her run to the semi-finals saw her defeat Barbora Strycova and Sara Errani in her first two matches before dismissing third-seeded Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 6-3 in the quarter-finals on Thursday.
The 30-year-old Kerber is particularly proud of how she has bounced back from her difficult 2017.
“Especially after last year where I was sitting home, I told myself, ‘Okay, this is not the end. I know I am a fighter. I will come back and I will go through all the tough preseason, fighting back. This is how I am’.
“Of course, it’s great to being back in the top-10, playing good tennis again. But for me right now, I mean, my goal is improving my game, enjoying my tennis, just trying to continue how I start the year.”
Looking ahead to her semi-final clash with Svitolina, who has won their last four meetings, Kerber said: “We played last year also in the semis. Yeah, she played unbelievable last year. Still a lot of confidence, especially here where she won last year.
“Yeah, it will be a tough match. She’s, yeah, bringing a lot of balls back, playing good tennis, moving good. I think it will be, yeah, a close and tough match tomorrow.”
In a three-hour battle that ended at midnight on Centre Court at the Aviation Club, Daria Kasatkina capitalised on her youth to prevail 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-2, saving two match points along the way.
The 20-year-old Russian upset the No. 7 seed and joked after the marathon match that she could go out there and start another contest.
“It was such a tough match. We spent like three hours on the court, but felt like one hour on a court because I was so much in the match, yeah,” said Kasatkina, who faces her fellow Russian Elena Vesnina in Thursday’s quarter-finals. .
“But now I feel a bit weird, yeah, because it’s done. It was such a big battle, such a big fight. So I’m just happy that I survive.”
It was a tug of war throughout with the first set lasting 59 minutes and the second going even longer – 76 minutes to be exact.
Kasatkina produced every shot in the book to survive that tiebreak, pulling off a curling forehand that landed in the corner, reminiscent of her favourite player, Rafael Nadal.
— WTA (@WTA) February 21, 2018
She saved two match points relying on some incredible variety, and won the set on a challenge that showed her ball had clipped the line.
The world No. 24 admits her mind was all over the place during the encounter and it was instinct that got her through in the end.
“I didn’t control my emotions, so… Really, I was just playing with my instincts, and that’s it, because my head was not working anymore,” said Kasatkina.
Referring to that challenge on set point in the second set, she added: “Oh, my God, that shot.
“I decided to challenge just in the last moment. Normally if you are watching from the side, you immediately say ‘challenge’ on this one. I was standing there thinking maybe it’s not. I had four challenges in this tiebreak, and I was thinking to challenge the ball, the only one my set point. Can you imagine what was happening in my head?”
Konta conceded that she ran out of steam towards the end of the match.
“At one point I was laughing, I did think we were playing two separate matches because she looked fresh as a daisy. That was not a great feeling,” said the 26-year-old Konta.
Down a set and a break, a down and out Kasatkina got a much-needed pep talk from coach Philip Dehaes.
“You’re very close. You want this? It’s beautiful out here. The weather is nice. Let’s stay another two hours.”
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) February 21, 2018
Kasatkina knows she’s due back on court in less than 24 hours for her quarter-final. Asked how she thinks she’ll recover, she said: “Thanks God I’m still young. Yeah, I have still some power, some energy. But of course we will see tomorrow because now I’m under adrenaline, so I don’t feel anything.
“Actually, I’m ready to go and play another one,” she added with a laugh. “But tomorrow we will see.”