Angelique Kerber claimed back-to-back wins at a WTA tournament for the first time this season as she eased any worries over her game with a convincing 6-2, 6-3 win over Olympic champion Monica Puig to reach the quarter-finals in Dubai.
Kerber was facing Puig for the first time since she lost to her in the gold medal match in Rio last summer and while the Puerto Rican showed glimpses of the form she exhibited at the Olympics, it was the woman she previously conquered that was most consistent on Wednesday.
The German top seed needed just 65 minutes to dismiss Puig, and set-up a last-eight showdown with Croatian teenager Ana Konjuh.
Kerber saved all five break points she faced against the 23-year-old Puig and dropped just seven points on her first serve and six on her second.
The world No2 had won just one match in Dubai in her four previous appearances but has now made it two wins from two matches so far this week. She is three wins away from recapturing the No1 ranking she had conceded to Serena Williams last month.
“I was feeling good from the first point. It’s always tough to play against Monica, especially after our last match. Yeah, I was trying to play my game. I’m really happy about how I played today,” said Kerber, who leads her next opponent, Konjuh, 1-0 head-to-head.
“I think I was really trying to stay focused on every single point and trying to move good, bring a lot of balls back. Just thinking about my game, about my rhythm, and not thinking too much about my opponent tonight.”
Fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, the 2012 champion, was stunned 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 by 17-year-old American Cici Bellis, who admits she idolsed the Pole and grew up watching her since she was five years old.
Bellis, who was 0-3 against top-10 opposition going into the match with the sixth-ranked Radwanska, next faces Caroline Wozniacki, a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 winner of Ukrainian Kateryna Bondarenko.
“Both Radwanska and Wozniacki have been my idols since I was really young and watched them play on the TV since I was five years old,” said the 70th-ranked Bellis, who turned down a scholarship to Stanford University last summer to turn pro.
“It will be an honour to play either Wozniacki or Bondarenko. I’m just really excited to be here. Really happy.”
The 10th-seeded Wozniacki laughed at the idea that Bellis may have been that young and watching her on TV.
“That makes me feel really old,” the 26-year-old Wozniacki said with a chuckle. “Wow. I guess it could be true. How old is she, 17?
“Obviously we have been on tour for so long and played so many matches and been on TV for a lot of years. I think sometimes you just don’t realize how young these girls are that are coming up.
“But we were one of them, too. Aga and I were both really young when we broke through. You know, it’s my 12th year on tour now, so, you know, we have been here for a while, although I still feel young at heart.”
Radwanska was disappointed with her performance and admits she was having an off day.
“I didn’t feel good from the beginning,” said the Pole. “I didn’t play very great, I was trying everything and I did what I could today but the ball here is… it’s hard to feel the ball and it was really not going my way.”
Radwanska hit six double faults in the match, five of which came in the third set.
Asked if she had problems with her shoulder, she said: “My shoulder is not great, but I don’t think we can blame that. She definitely started playing more aggressive in the third set.”
Earlier in the day, world No76 Wang Qiang took out Karolina Pliskova’s conqueror Kristina Mladenovic 6-1, 6-4 to claim the ninth top-50 win of her career.
Seventh-seeded Elina Svitolina extended her winning streak to 10 matches with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over American Christina McHale to reach the quarter-finals in Dubai for a second straight year.
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