On a crowded order of play at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open on Thursday, several of the draw's biggest names made winning starts to their 2021 campaigns.
Reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin shook off nervous moments against qualifier Yang Zhaoxuan to take her season opener, 7-6 (4), 6-2, after one hour and 56 minutes. Kenin struck 11 aces, though also donated eight double faults to the current world No. 789.
“The first set was quite tough for me. I couldn't find the ball, I guess," Kenin said. "But [in the] second set, I showed up strong and of course I feel like it's because of the lack of matches for me.”
Fellow American Coco Gauff saved all eight break points she faced in dispatching lucky loser Ulrikke Eikeri, 6-0, 6-1. Gauff was playing her first singles match since falling to Aryna Sabalenka in the second round of Ostrava, where she lost despite holding a 5-2 double-break lead in their third set. The 16-year-old will take on No. 9 seed Maria Sakkari next.
Sabalenka, the No. 4 seed, picked up where she left off in 2020 after ending the year on a nine-match win streak thanks to consecutive titles in Ostrava and Linz. Sabalenka found herself down 2-5 and facing two set points against Polona Hercog to start, but regrouped to take command, 7-6 (5), 6-2.
"I didn't have my serve and I didn't have my forehand and backhand. but I had my character," Sabalenka said. "I was just trying to use it as much as I can. Keep fighting for every point. I think that's why I won today."
Two-time major winner Garbine Muguruza had no trouble in her opener, advancing past Kristina Mladenovic with a 6-2, 6-4 victory. With the win, Muguruza evened the pair's head-to-head series to 2-2.
In late action, second seed Elina Svitolina and third Karolina Pliskova continued the trend to round out the day. Svitolina defeated Jessica Pegula, 6-4, 6-3, while Pliskova topped Greek qualifier Despina Papamichail, 6-2, 7-6 (4).
Sixth seed Elena Rybakina dismissed Lucrezia Stefanini, 6-1, 6-3, but two fellow seeds bowed out. Hsieh Su-wei eliminated No. 8 seed Marketa Vondrousova, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3), before Tamara Zidansek overcame a first-set bagel to oust No. 11 seed Jennifer Brady, 0-6, 6-3, 6-4.