Ana Ivanovic set up a second-round showdown with top seed Simona Halep at the Dubai Tennis Championships yesterday, thanks to a 6-1, 6-0 hammering of Russian-born Australian Daria Gavrilova.
The 28-year-old Serb, a former world number one and French Open champion eight years ago, is back on court with British coach Nigel Sears, who collapsed during her third-round loss against Madison Keys at the Australian Open last month.
“He’s obviously feeling healthy, everything is going well,” Ivanovic said after going through in 53 minutes.
Ivanovic has shaken up her support team again, with Sears now back in as coach and some fresh personnel coming on board.
“We did some big changes. I have a new fitness coach also with me, it’s a new, solid team I have behind me now,” the 17th-ranked Ivanovic said.
“And all the hard work we have done in the off-season and also injury prevention and also fitness work obviously gives you confidence. There are still some things to improve and to work on. But that’s the beauty of tennis, you always have to push yourself,” the Serb added.
Ivanovic is fresh from a St Petersburg semi-final at the weekend, where she lost to Roberta Vinci.
“Last week I played some great tennis. Obviously it’s a little bit tough, different conditions here completely,” Ivanovic said. “I had only one practice here. But still I’m very happy. I know I’ve done the work, and now it’s just about executing and also enjoying competition.”
The three-time Dubai quarter-finalist broke Gavrilova six times. The Australian, who committed 22 unforced errors, was playing the main draw for the first time.
“We played once before and it was a battle on clay, so I knew it was a tough match and I had to step up because I knew she’s a great mover and she strikes the ball really well,” Ivanovic said.
“Here the ball flies a little bit, so I tried to use that to my advantage and move forward a little bit. And I did that very well and was very aggressive on my returns, so overall I’m very happy.”
Her reward is a meeting with defending champion Halep, an opponent Ivanovic is excited to pit her improving game against.
“Yeah, definitely. You want to play against the best and challenge yourself. We’ve had battles in the past but it’s going to be a tough one,” she said.
Elsewhere, Elina Svitolina of Ukraine will take on second-seeded Wiimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza of Spain after defeating Jana Cepelova 6-3, 6-1, while Czech Barbora Strycova beat Bulgarian qualifier Tsvetana Pironkova 6-4, 6-3.
Svitolina has also made changes in coaching and has taken on former number one Justine Henin as a part-time advisor.
“It’s great to have Justine in my team, I worked with her in off-season for a little bit, and now she’s gonna join us for some tournaments,” she said.
Svitolina claimed the first set and needed to win a 17-minute game for a 4-1 lead in the second before taking the win.
“It was a good start but then I struggled a little bit to finish the set,” she said. “But I’m really happy that a good finish with two sets and only gave up four games. It was a good start.”
Upbeat Halep explains Dubai U-turn
For Simona Halep, Romania’s recent Fed Cup defeat at the hands of the Czech Republic was a bittersweet experience.
Halep and company went into the tie—their first in World Group I since 1992—as overwhelming underdogs against the defending champions, only to defy expectations and force a deciding fifth rubber. While this ultimately proved a bridge too far, Halep’s disappointment was tempered by the relief of being able to compete pain-free once again.
This prompted a sudden change in schedule for the World No. 3, who had planned to take February and March off to undergo surgery to tackle an ongoing sinus infection. Instead of sitting out her defense of this week’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, Halep accepted a late wildcard to take up a place in the draw.
“I delayed it because I feel okay now. I got good treatment at home and now I feel that I’m able to play, so I’ve put it off until the end of the year, maybe... I’m not sure exactly when,” Halep said yesterday. “But now I feel good and I want to just keep playing.
“Actually I decided to delay the operation before Fed Cup; I really wanted to play in my country, for my country. So this helped me a lot to get some confidence. I had some good matches and thought that I feel good here [in Dubai] and would play some matches.”
It has been a stuttering start to the campaign for Halep, whose preparations were dealt a couple of body blows: “It started in the beginning of December. I was practicing but it wasn’t easy for me because I got tired very often and very fast. After that I had a stomach infection and I had to take some days off.
“It was tough, I came to Australia still taking antibiotics and it was tough for me to start playing tournaments. Then I had the Achilles injury and then before Melbourne, in Sydney, I got an infection of my nose and ear. So it was tough to play, it was tough to stay there focused.”
Despite suffering a couple of surprise losses Down Under—against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Sydney semifinals, then to World No. 133 Zhang Shuai at the Australian Open—the 24-year-old is refusing to let hindsight cloud her thoughts.
“Yes maybe it would’ve been better if I didn’t go to the first tournaments because I had the stomach infection but I thought it was going to be easy. But the jet-lag and everything was tough for me to adapt, it was tough to play,” she added.“But I don’t want to regret anything and now I’m just keeping an eye on my health more and on enjoying playing.”
Unsurprisingly, given her run to the title 12 months ago and victory in neighbouring Doha in 2014, Halep has fond memories of this time of year.
“I’m happy to be back here. It means a lot this tournament because last year I won it. I have great memories from that time—many fans are coming to support me here. So I’m looking forward to starting the tournament and that I’m able to play.” (wtatennis.com)
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