MATCH POINT: Garbine Muguruza defeats Katerina Siniakova in a first-round rollercoaster at the 2022 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Aryna Sabalenka played her best tennis of the season to hold off Ukrainian qualifier Marta Kostyuk at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday.

Despite a seemingly straight-forward 6-4, 6-1 scoreline, Sabalenka was made to work—both physically against her determined 19-year-old opponent and mentally as she struggled to connect with her serves in the first set.

The Belarusian’s service woes played a big factor in her slow start to the season, as she was plagued by the ‘yips’ throughout her Australian Summer campaign. The double faults were still there for Sabalenka against Kostyuk, but she improved considerably in the second set—saving all three break points she faced—to close out the victory in Dubai.

“I’ve worked so hard for this win,” Sabalenka said in her post-match interview. “I don’t know when I will find my serve, but believe me I’m working really hard on my service games! One day I will win without the double faults, or at least less than 10.”


Progress has already been made in that case, as Sabalenka served only nine double faults—eight of which came during the roller coaster opening set. The World No. 2 struggled to put some distance between herself and Kostyuk, who was looking for her first Top 10 win.

With her serve still not firing on all cylinders, Sabalenka instead relied on her booming groundstrokes and powerful baseline game to keep Kostyuk under pressure. She weathered the storm, and the pair enchanted six consecutive breaks of serve. But once Sabalenka held serve for the first time at 4-4, the Belarusian jolted to life and she reeled off eight of the next nine games to close out the victory.

Sabalenka will take on Petra Kvitova next, in a rematch of the 2020 Doha final. Sabalenka won that match in straight sets to level their head-to-head record 2-2.


Defending champion Muguruza needed two hours and 25 minutes to see off Siniakova.

Defending champion Muguruza needed two hours and 25 minutes to see off Siniakova.

No.4 seed Garbine Muguruza also made a winning return to Dubai, and the defending champion overcame qualifier Katerina Siniakova 7-6(5), 2-6, 6-2 to extend her reign. It was a tricky matchup for the Spaniard, who had lost her previous two matches with Siniakova and trailed 1-2 in their head-to-head.

The Spaniard needed two hours and 25 minutes to see off the Czech, after saving a set point to win the first set in a tiebreak and then going down an early break in the second set to allow her opponent back in. Muguruza won the last four games in a row, saving two break points along the way. She will take on Veronika Kudermetova in the second round, after the Russian fought past Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 6-4.

Qualifier Elena-Gabriela Ruse scored the biggest win of her career in Dubai in unforgettable style, rallying from 4-1 down in the third set to stun Paula Badosa 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. The victory over the No. 3 seed marks her first Top 10 win.

Ruse won’t have much time to celebrate, as she’s earned a matchup with fellow Romanian Simona Halep in the second round. Halep, who defeated Alison Riske in straight sets on Monday, has yet to lose to a countrywoman in a WTA main draw match.