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.
Russia is obviously a huge nation when it comes to the Olympics which is why the doping controversy surrounding their athletes sent shockwaves around the world.
While Russian track and field athletes were not allowed to take part in last summer’s Rio 2016 Olympics, tennis players were given a reprieve and Ekaterina Makarova walked away from Brazil with a gold medal, which she won in doubles alongside Elena Vesnina.
Yesterday, the Russian lefty explained how massive it is to win an Olympic gold medal in her home country.
“It’s a very big thing in Russia. We get a lot of money and we get a lot of – we get the car from the president. Not other countries will get this,” revealed the 28-year-old.
“And when you are Olympic champion, you can be in your country, wherever you want to go, they will let you go, because it’s a very big status in Russia.”
There’s even a system for which car one gets, depending on the medal they have won.
“BMW X6 for gold. X5 for silver. X4 for bronze,” said Makarova, who obviously got the biggest BMW for her golden efforts.
Well, at least it’s a fair system…
Makarova then added that she believed the doping scandal was more about politics than anything else.
“The Russians, always something happens with the Russians. We are fighting, and I think we are just the strongest people in the world, yeah, because we – I don’t know. We just need to survive in our country, and sometimes it’s a lot of things that… so we are so hard inside.”
Kerber raises her game
Things were less serious in Angelique Kerber’s press conference after her straight-sets win over Mona Barthel.
The pair contested a 26-shot rally at one point during the match and Kerber admits she was proud of her efforts in that one.
“Maybe I win the ‘Shot of the Month’, not Aga again,” she said with a laugh, referring to Agnieskza Radwanska, whose incredible hot shots tend to take that honour each month.
The top seed then discussed her unique dining experience near Dubai Marina on Monday, where she was joined by her team and WTA president Mickey Lawler for a “Dinner in the Sky”.
The unique dining concept takes guests 50 metres up, suspended by a crane, to enjoy a meal while overlooking the Arabian Gulf.
Sounds like a bad version of a theme park free fall ride if you ask me, but Kerber seemed to enjoy it.
“It was nice,” said the world No2.
“I’m fine with the heights, so I was really enjoying it.
“My team was a little bit scared on top of the skies, but no, I was enjoying it. I was looking around. I mean, they were sitting like this (demonstrating clenched arms). But I had a good time.”
Just imagine her coach Torben Beltz’s reaction to that dinner! Shame we missed it.
You can be a fighter to the core, but not have a killer instinct, and according to Dominika Cibulkova, the former comes naturally to her, but the latter requires lots of work to acquire.
The world No5 is renowned for her unrelenting fight on the court, and while she appeared short on that in her 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 defeat to Ekaterina Makarova in the Dubai second round yesterday, Cibulkova says it was her killer instinct that deserted her against the Russian.
The Slovakian No3 seed was up 2-0 in the decider against Makarova, who up until this year had never beaten Cibulkova in any of their previous three meetings. But the Russian snapped her losing streak to Cibulkova at the Australian Open last month, and was able to back that up with another victory over her yesterday.
“It helped a lot, of course, because I never beat her before,” Makarova said of that win in Melbourne. “So this match, when I was coming out and I kind of more believing that I can win, and I knew what to do, how to play, where to go, yeah, I was kind of staying until the end that I was believing that I can beat her.”
Cibulkova is as self-critical as one can get, and she gave a thorough explanation of what went wrong for her during the match.
The 27-year-old said her semi-final loss to Yulia Putintseva in St. Petersburg earlier this month, and both her defeats to Makarova in Melbourne and Dubai, all shared a common problem, and she was planning on fixing it.
“I lost the matches because of the same thing. So I know what I have to work on and this is something I want to get back on my own track – what I was doing last year,” Cibulkova said on Tuesday.
“Last year I won so many three-set matches but only because of this one thing, that I had this killer instinct, I was just really going for more when I was up. And now it’s a different story.
“I’m not that confident and I’m not doing the right thing that I should do. That’s what we’re going to work on, in the practice too. If I was playing good tennis, I wouldn’t get into these three sets, and I’m just losing because I’m not finishing the matches.”
She added: “Fighting is a different thing than the killer instinct in the match. And today I got really frustrated with myself that I didn’t match the end of the match. The last two games (against Makarova) I was really upset.”
Cibulkova, who won her biggest title to date at the WTA Finals last year in Singapore and had a stellar 2016 that saw her win four trophies from seven finals reached, admits that she may look feisty and gritty on court but that going for the kill is something that does not come easily to her.
“You know somebody has the killer instinct and somebody doesn’t. And it’s just me, it’s more that I really have to push myself into this. Maybe it looks different on the court, that I’m happy about it, but it’s something I have to push myself into it and right now I’m not doing it right,” said the Slovak.
Cibulkova was one of three top-five seeds to crashed out on Tuesday, with No5 seed Garbine Muguruza retiring with an Achilles injury while down 1-4 against Kateryna Bondarenko, and No2 seed Karolina Pliskova falling in straight sets to Kristina Mladenovic.