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QUALIFIER KALINSKAYA ELIMINATES GAUFF TO SET UP SEMIFINAL WITH WORLD NO1 SWIATEK

QUALIFIER KALINSKAYA ELIMINATES GAUFF TO SET UP SEMIFINAL WITH WORLD NO1 SWIATEK

Friday, February 23, 2024/ Editor -  

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After three-set victory over World No3, Anna Kalinskaya becomes only the fourth qualifier in history to reach final four of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Swiatek breezes past last month’s Australian Open finalist Zheng to reach her second successive Dubai semifinal and stays on course for back-to-back Gulf titles

Dubai, UAE – February 23, 2024:  Qualifier Anna Kalinskaya rallied back from a set-down on Thursday night to dump World No3 Coco Gauff out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 and set up a surprise semifinal with World No1 Iga Swiatek.

 

Gauff, winner of last year’s US Open at Flushing Meadows, took an early lead at the Dubai Tennis Stadium and with Kalinskaya requesting a medical timeout shortly before the end of the first set, it looked like a repeat of last year’s semifinal where Gauff met Swiatek was on the cards. But the World No40 had other ideas, showing her mettle – and the benefits of a little medical attention – to turn the match on its head and secure her second Top-10 win of the week and first Top-5 win.

 

In the opening exchanges, Gauff raced into a lead despite facing two breakpoints in the opening game. Kalinskaya, who reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open last month, struggled to settle and was broken again in the fourth after a lengthy service game. Yet with 25-year-old Kalinskaya – making her Main Draw debut in Dubai this week – requesting on-court treatment for upper back pain and momentum firmly with Gauff, it was the American’s level that declined in the second set.

 

Both players dropped early service games, but Kalinskaya held in the fourth to advance 3-1 and showed a strong defensive game to eventually take it to 5-2. Gauff secured a break that gave her hope, but it was not enough as Kalinskaya closed out the set on her serve.

 

In the decisive third set, an error-strewn Gauff failed to match her opponent, who quickly went ahead 2-0 and showed no signs of the early back pains as she played a variety of powerful forehands from the baseline mixed with angled cross-court backhands that had her opponent on her heels. Serving for the match, Kalinskaya – who has never contested a semifinal in a WTA 1000 event before – showed some nerves, but ultimately secured what was required.

“It was a difficult match,” said Kalinskaya, who becomes only the fourth qualifier to reach the final four in Dubai. “I started a little bit not so confident. I was getting used to the surface. I played many games this week [in qualifying] but didn't get the chance to play on Centre Court. I felt the speed of the bounce was a bit different. I couldn't find my timing.

 

“In the second set, I actually calmed down a little bit more and I played point-by-point until the end of the match. I could feel the tension until the last point. She kept bringing so many balls back, so I had to stay really patient and decide which ball to go and finish the point.”

 

The reward for beating the World No3 is a first encounter with four-time Grand Slam winner Swiatek, who beat Qinwen Zheng earlier in the evening. The two met in doubles earlier in their careers, and Kalinskaya remembers being impressed at the time.

 

“I think it was more than five years ago on clay. When I saw her – playing against her – I was like: ‘She's really good’. She was making really great decisions in the doubles match. I'm not surprised she’s No1 because I could see already mentally that she was super strong and physically she's super fit. I need to be ready for tomorrow and see what I can do, but I’m definitely excited to play against her in singles.”

 

Twenty-two-year-old Swiatek, crowned champion in Doha on Saturday, extended her unbeaten run in the Middle East this year by making light work of Zheng. The 6-3, 6-2 win meant the Pole also maintained her 100 per cent record against last month’s Australian Open champion, having won all five previous encounters, most recently at the United Cup in Perth.

 

Under the lights at Dubai Tennis Stadium, she convincingly emerged victorious yet again, denying Zheng a break of serve throughout and saving three breakpoints. When it was put to her that she is becoming a ‘clutch’ player that performs best in moments of high pressure, she agreed – after having the term explained to her.

 

“Yeah, I think I can really play well under pressure and in those important moments,” said Swiatek after extending her winning streak in the Gulf region this year to seven matches. “I guess it’s maybe the decision-making. For sure, mentally I treat those shots the same way as any other shot in the match. I don't feel extra pressure; I just feel like it's any other point – which gives me freedom to do anything, honestly.”

 

For all the pre-tournament talk of this year’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship featuring 17 of the world’s top 20 players, Swiatek is the sole semifinalist ranked inside the top 22. Yet while she is undoubtedly favourite now and expected to win successive tournaments in Doha and Dubai, she was quick to not only play down talk of a title quite yet, but also explain some of the unique demands in playing back-to-back tournaments. 

 

“I'm in the semifinal, so I don't think anybody would say it’s their title when they're in the middle of the tournament,” she responded when asked whether she considered the title hers to lose now.

 

“The challenge with playing two tournaments in a row is not having time to adjust in a peaceful way, but I wouldn't say it's much different than other tournaments that you play, such as Rome-Madrid or Indian Wells-Miami. Maybe it's different because you have few matches in a row whereas at these other tournaments, you have some days off. But honestly, I don't mind. I kind of like it.”

 

Swiatek and Kalinskaya face off Friday at the the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, which is owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free and held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Tickets for both the ongoing women’s WTA 1000 tournament and next week’s men’s ATP 500 event remain available to purchase at www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com.    


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