“Well, everyone fears something. There is not really ‘fearless’. There’s no such thing like that,” said Svitolina, who is just one win away from defending her Dubai title following her 6-3, 6-3 semi-final triumph over Angelique Kerber on Friday.
“Yeah, she had tough road to the final. I will just try to focus on my game, as I did before. She produces good game. But I will try to be ready and, yeah, just take next opponent on.”
Kasatkina saved three match points against Garbine Muguruza before sending the No. 2 seed packing in a 3-6, 7-6 (11), 6-1 thriller in front of a buoyant crowd at the Aviation Club on Friday.
That came just two days after she saved two match points to defeat No. 7 seed Johanna Konta in the last-16 on Wednesday.
“After winning two matches from match points, I’m not scared of anything already. Playing tiebreak every match, no, I’m scared,” declared Kasatkina on Friday.
The 20-year-old giant-slayer, who is guaranteed a new career-high ranking of 20 on Monday, and could go higher if she wins the title, is through to her third career final, playing some sensational tennis.
Kasatkina has spent nine hours and five minutes on court so far en route to the final, compared to four hours and 57 minutes for Svitolina, who played one less match due to her bye in the first round.
It’s understandable if the world No. 24 might not have enough left in the tank for Saturday’s showdown.
“It’s already final, so I have to put, like, everything that’s left in my body into this match. I hope I will,” said Kasatkina, who trails Svitolina 0-2 head-to-head.
The 23-year-old Svitolina is looking to become just the third woman to defend the Dubai title alongside Justine Henin and Venus Williams while Kasatkina could become just the second Russian woman to lift the trophy here, following Elena Dementieva in 2008.
— WTA (@WTA) February 23, 2018
Kasatkina looked down and out when Muguruza was serving for the match at 6-3, 5-4. But Kasatkina broke the Spaniard’s serve and the set eventually went to a tiebreak.
Both players upped the ante and it was a real nail-biter that saw Kasatkina save three match points and Muguruza save three set points before the underdog sealed the deal 13-11.
Muguruza, the reigning Wimbledon champion, ran out of steam in the decider as Kasatkina’s heroics once again got her through.
In their most recent previous meeting, Kasatkina served for the match and held match point before losing to Muguruza in the Brisbane last-16 last year.
It was a role reversal this time around.
“My first set point in the tiebreak, I was serving, and the picture from Brisbane last year I had in front of my face,” Kasatkina admitted following her win on Friday.
“Just I was smiling inside. I looked at my brother because I think he also knew I was going to remind this thing. Yeah, it was special match, for sure.”
— WTA (@WTA) February 23, 2018
Asked for a reason why she won against Muguruza, Kasatkina said: “Who knows. He knows (looking up to God). When you’re winning from match points, you don’t know why.
“I was just trying to fight for every ball because Garbine, she’s playing unbelievable. She’s very tough opponent. She’s hitting so hard, playing so fast. I was just trying to do whatever I could.”
Kasatkina came to Dubai with “no expectations” after retiring with a neck injury in her Doha opener the previous week.
She has since played over nine hours of tennis and is one of two last women standing in the tournament.
“Actually, before the (Muguruza semi-final) match I was really, really tired. When you’re going on court, adrenaline is coming, and you just can forget about it. You start to run, blood start to run into your body, that’s it. You’re just focused on every ball. The tiredness is somewhere, going somewhere, yeah,” said Kasatkina.
On her part, Svitolina is looking forward to her second consecutive Dubai final, after claiming a seventh win over Kerber in 12 meetings.
Last year, Dubai was, at the time, her biggest title triumph, and one that saw her crack the top-10 for the first time. Today she is No. 4 in the world and owns 10 career titles.
Looking back to how she felt on the eve of her Dubai final last year, Svitolina said: “I was definitely a little nervous because I had much more things, like I was reaching top-10 for the first time, it was my biggest title at the time. This time is different. Still I’m very excited for the final. But still it is different.”
Roger Federer will not be accepting a last-minute wildcard into the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships that starts on Monday, tournament director Salah Tahlak confirmed on Friday.
Federer, who secured a return to the No. 1 ranking by reaching the semi-finals and eventually winning the title in Rotterdam last week, has been a regular in Dubai, competing here 13 times and capturing the trophy on seven occasions.
The Swiss had hinted that he could be coming to Dubai, which could have extended the gap between him and Rafael Nadal in the world rankings (Federer is currently a mere 345 points ahead).
But Tahlak says he spoke to Federer’s agent Tony Godsick two days ago and the American informed him the Swiss has chosen to rest this upcoming week before heading to Indian Wells and Miami where he is defending champion in both.
“I understand and I believe whatever’s good for him is good for us. You can’t really push him more,” Tahlak said in an interview with Sport360 and The National.
“Because had he not won in Rotterdam he would have definitely come here. I really respect him, as a professional and as an athlete. He’s on top of all athletes really, with all due respect to all the players, WTA and ATP, but I think he’s a really different personality. He’s so classy and has done well for the game, has done well for Dubai. He’s a legend.”
Tahlak added: “For him it would have been a good year to come and then maybe add another 500 points. It would have been easier for him. It’s always difficult when (Rafael) Nadal and (Novak) Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan (Wawrinka), none of them were here, so it would have been easy for him.
“Again, in the end he decided with his coach and physios, they know him best. As Tony said he has to look at it health-wise, because in August he’s going to be 37 years old. For me, I can’t say anything, but that I wish him all the best.”
Tahlak sounded confident that Federer will be coming to compete in Dubai in the future, saying: “Probably, because Tony (his agent) said yes, if we can plan things ahead, he will come back next year.”
For a tournament that has an ATP 500 status, Dubai has often had such strong fields that resembled some of the biggest events in the world.
Federer, Djokovic, Murray and many other marquee names have frequented the tournament but this year, Grigor Dimitrov is the only top-10 player present in the draw.
Tahlak has confirmed that Dimitrov has indeed arrived to Dubai.
“Dimitrov is here. He’s not staying here (pointing to the on-site Jumeirah Creekside hotel), he wants to be away from the rest, you know, typical top-10 player,” said Tahlak.
Tahlak says that the tournament usually secures deals with top players as early as Wimbledon the previous year, although sometimes negotiations are completed by the US Open. He revealed that in the past, multiple three-year deals were made with Federer and Djokovic to play in Dubai.
“Andy confirmed and then halfway through said he can’t make it. Stan almost, 50/50, Novak 50/50. At the same time, the rest they will go to Acapulco,” admitted Tahlak.
Acapulco used to be played on clay up until it was switched to hard-court in 2014. Tahlak says that change has had a negative effect on the Dubai tournament.
“It’s a direct competition. Double-up week, very difficult. It was better when they were clay, but since they changed court in 2014 it’s a direct competition, a direct head-to-head with us,” said the Emirati.
“Another advantage Acapulco has got, is that it’s closer to Indian Wells. It’s a three-hour flight versus 15 hours.”
While Tahlak is confident that the Dubai tournament has enough tradition to attract fans even without the usual star-studded field, he says people should also start realising that a transitional period is coming in tennis where the likes of Federer and Nadal will retire and younger players will take their place.
“A lot of them don’t understand it’s no longer like it was. Like in football, at one point people will no longer think about Messi or Ronaldo, in a way the players will all fade out one day, they’re all going to go,” he says.
“So we have to accept that. I think we’ve been good for many years and I believe we should focus on the new generation. That’s really also what ATP president Chris Kermode is promoting at the moment, the Next Generation. Because how many more years will Roger last? Two more? And even Nadal… all of them. It’s the end of their tennis careers. The younger ones are doing well as well.
“The fans should understand tennis is like any other sport. It moves up and down, this is the game.”
Tahlak also hit out at offseason exhibition tournaments, saying they are contributing to the increase in players’ injuries.
“Another problem is that a lot of players they do also play in the offseason, so that gives them more money, but also more injuries and more risk to their health. Some of them use it as practice,” he added.
“Financially it means a lot for them, but also a risk of injuries. And that’s what we’re all suffering from, the other tournaments.”
Daria Kasatkina came back from the brink for a second time this week, saving three match points against Garbine Muguruza to upset the No. 2 seed 3-6, 7-6 (11), 6-1 in a dramatic affair on Friday to reach the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
The 20-year-old Russian, who saved two match points against Johanna Konta in the second round on Wednesday, once again showcased grit and courage to claim her first victory over Muguruza in three meetings, and reach the third WTA final of her career.
Of the four semi-finalists, Kasatkina had spent the most time on court heading into her showdown with Muguruza, having battled through six hours and 32 minutes of tennis in her opening three rounds, including a three-hour battle Konta.
In comparison, Muguruza had spent a total of three hours and 29 minutes on court prior to their semi-final, but she played one less match due to her bye in the first round.
Kasatkina, the youngest Russian to make the semi-finals in Dubai since Victoria Azarenka reached the last-four in 2010, is looking to become just the second woman from her country to win the title here at the Aviation Club and first since Elena Dementieva in 2008.
She is guaranteed a career-high ranking of No. 22 on Monday but could break the top-20 for the first time if she wins the Dubai title.
In their most recent encounter, Kasatkina served for the match and held a match point before losing to Muguruza in the Brisbane last-16 last year.
The tables turned this time around.
Friday’s match was a thriller from the get-go.
The pair engaged in some punishing lengthy rallies from the start and hung on to their own service games before Muguruza broke for a 4-2 lead on a long lob from Kasatkina.
Some spot-on serving from the Spaniard saw her wrap up the opening set in 37 minutes.
The stands were the fullest they’d been all week, and spectators were in a good mood, starting Mexican waves and cheering with gusto. But they applauded midway through a point during the fifth game of the second set when Kasatkina hit a lob and their reaction distracted Muguruza who missed the following overhead smash.
It prompted umpire Kader Nouni to warn them to wait until the end of the point before clapping.
A marathon seventh game that lasted over 10 minutes gave Muguruza the break for 4-3. Up to that point, the No. 2 seed had dropped just one point on her serve in the second set. Yet somehow she got broken in the next game, at love, as Kasatkina drew level for 4-all.
The Russian fell behind 0-40 in the next game but produced some huge cross-court forehands and serves to save five break points. But after seven minutes of back-and-forth, Muguruza got the break to put herself in a position to serve for the match.
But Kasatkina wasn’t going down without a fight. She painted the line with a forehand to get two break points. Muguruza came up with two big serves to get to deuce, but she double-faulted to face a third break point. This time the Spaniard sent a ball wide and Kasatkina was back in it at 5-all.
The set went to a tiebreak and Muguruza quickly went up 3-0. But Kasatkina pegged her back, drawing level on a 36-shot rally.
The world No. 24 got her first set point at 6-5 but a bold Muguruza covered the net well and found the winner to save it.
A long forehand from Muguruza gave Kasatkina a second set point but the Wimbledon champion again found her serve when she needed it to get out of trouble.
Muguruza got her hands on a first match point at 8-7. The point had to be replayed due to a wrong call from a line judge that was correctly challenged by Kasatkina. A gutsy forehand saw her save the match point for 8-8.
Kasatkina double-faulted to give Muguruza another match point, this time on the Spaniard’s serve, But again Kasatkina saves it with some heroic shot-making for 9-all.
Muguruza got her hands on a third match point but committed a 40th unforced error, an 11th off the backhand side, to let it slip away. She then netted a volley to give Kasatkina a third set point at 11-10. It was the youngster’s turn to make the backhand error and they were back tied at 11-11.
Kasatkina finally took the set on her fourth opportunity to force a decider.
She then broke to start the third set claimed two more breaks to secure a memorable victory in two hours and 33 minutes.