WTA stars go the extra mile to make it to Dubai

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Who needs sleep?: Daniela Hantuchova beat Mona Barthel on Monday after flying from Thailand to the UAE.

Players have long complained about their schedules but it is not the length of the season that is necessarily tricky, it is making the rapid switches between tournaments throughout the year that is challenging.

Take Karolina Pliskova for example. The world No18 lost her semi-final in Antwerp on Saturday, flew from Belgium to Dubai via the Czech Republic, landed in the UAE on Monday at 2:00am and was ready for her opening round here against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova at 16:00. 

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Despite the dramatic change in weather conditions – it is 20°C colder in Belgium – the difference in the surface of the court – Antwerp is played indoors while Dubai is outdoors – and the fatigue from the flight, Pliskova somehow managed to beat the Russian to advance. 

“It’s totally different than it was in Antwerp, so I was a little bit getting into it and I didn’t practice that much here. I just hit 30 minutes in the morning today,” Pliskova said after her 6-2, 6-4 win. 

“So I hope the next match will be better, but the surface is quite fast. The ball is flying.”

Venus Williams (L), Karolina Pliskova (C) and Andrea Petkovic (R).

Daniela Hantuchova, who received a wildcard for the Dubai main draw, had 24 hours between winning her Pattaya City final in Thailand against Ajla Tomljanovic and her first round here against Mona Barthel at the Aviation Club. The Slovak veteran slept a mere 30 minutes on the plane to Dubai, arrived at 5:30am, and powered through the rest of her day before battling past Barthel 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-3 in two hours and 39 minutes. 

“I was warming up and it was like five minutes’ running, felt like five hours,” Hantuchova said. 

“I knew that once the adrenaline of the match kicked in that it was going to be easier, but still, from the middle of the second set my legs were just, out of control.

“But this is what I work for, and this is where the love for the sport comes in. Yes, I’m tired, but it’s the best feeling in the world.”

Antwerp semi-finalist Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, runner-up Carla Suarez Navarro and champion Andrea Petkovic all had to go through similar daunting trips to the Emirates.

But it’s not just the players who were involved in tournaments last week who had it tough going. Many ladies had Fed Cup action all over the world just 10 days ago in countries that are much further and colder than Belgium or Thailand.

Venus Williams’ recent travel schedule took her from Melbourne for the Australian Open (outdoor hard courts), to Buenos Aires for Fed Cup (outdoor clay), to Florida (pit stop at home) to Dubai all within a three-week period.

Russian two-time grand slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who faces Angelique Kerber in the second round on Tuesday, has been struggling to adapt to the drastic change in conditions from freezing Krakow, where she and her team won the Fed Cup tie indoors against Poland, to the UAE, where temperatures have been well over 30°C.

“I was warming up. Five minutes running felt like five hours" – Daniela Hantuchova 

“It was so cold, the surface was so slow and here it’s so fast, it takes time to get used to,” said Kuznetsova. “But still I’m happy to be in Dubai. I didn’t come here last year. I used to be a resident here, so I really missed this city and I’m happy to be back.”

The weather alone is not the toughest thing to deal with. It’s the heat coupled with the fast surface and different ball. 

Italian Flavia Pennetta, who faces qualifier Qiang Wang in the second round today, says the balls here are quite tough to control. 

“I think the ball is getting really small and fast, and the court is not that fast but bouncing high,” said Pennetta.

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