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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 March 2019

Dubai Tennis: Historic bid inspires Elina Svitolina to shift gears against Ons Jabeur

Chance to win unprecedented third straight title inspires Ukrainian to overcome sluggish start before Tunisian opponent retires after injury

Elina Svitolina is a two-time defending champion at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Francois Nel / Getty Images
Elina Svitolina is a two-time defending champion at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Francois Nel / Getty Images

Elina Svitolina admitted her desire to make history at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships had inspired her to fightback from a lethargic start on Tuesday.

The Ukrainian is bidding to become the first player to win the WTA Dubai title three times in a row.

But her chances of doing that had not looked good when she was broken in her opening service game against Tunisian Ons Jabeur in their second-round match on Centre Court.

Of the importance of completing three titles in three years, she said: "It's a big motivation for me.

“When I was 0-2 down, I told myself, 'Come on, you are here to make history of the tournament’."

Svitolina did rally from her tentative beginning and won four games in a row from being 4-1 down to go 5-4 up and be serving for the set.

But Jabeur, the world No 56, broke back and a closely-fought clash looked to be in the offing.

However, Jabeur had felt a twinge in her right shoulder during the warm-up before the game and the pain got worse as the match went on.

She received prolonged treatment, with her shoulder and arm being massaged, following the 11th game.

While she was able to continue she was visibly suffering physically. After Svitolina won the first set on a tie-break she won the first four games of the second set at a canter before Jabeur retired hurt to end the match 7-6, 4-0.

Jabeur was left upset that injury had denied her the chance to upset the sixth seed, having played some great tennis early on before her injury became too much.

“I'm still a little angry about it as I felt I was playing really good and I was playing good shots during the game,” the 24-year-old said.

"I was playing my best tennis and I was handling the first set pretty good but then it is frustrating to have this kind of injury."

Svitolina said she was not surprised by Jabeur’s high early level, but did feel the fact the Tunisian had played both singles and doubles on Monday had given her an early edge on being familiar with the playing surface.

“I played against her in juniors, so obviously I know she's a good player. She can deliver a good match,” she said.

“That's why I think, yeah, it was kind of expectable because she played already doubles and played singles. She got a little bit used to the conditions. I know I won lots of matches here previous years, but still I needed some time.”

Ons Jabeur was left upset that injury had denied her the chance to upset Elina Svitolina, having played some great tennis early on. Francois Nel / Getty Images
Ons Jabeur was left upset that injury had denied her the chance to upset Elina Svitolina, having played some great tennis early on. Francois Nel / Getty Images

Svitolina hopes she will a better level for her match with Garbine Muguruza on Wednesday for a place in the quarter-finals.

"Today I didn't really feel like in a match mood. I don't know why. Was a bit struggling. In the end, we could say I had a very slow start. Hopefully, yeah, tomorrow will be better."

Muguruza, the 12th seed, got the better of Saisai Zheng 7-5, 6-2 in her match.

The Spaniard reached the semi-finals in Dubai 12 months ago before losing to Daria Kasatkina, but Svitolina says her focus is purely on her own tennis and not who her opponent is.

"For me, I just want to have the mentality of not thinking so much who is in the other side of the net," she said. "I'm here to win matches, try to improve my game each match.

"It's not going to be easy. It's not easy to defend the title, to step on court just in these conditions. With the wind, the ball is flying a little bit. I just want to focus on myself."

Updated: February 19, 2019 11:16 PM

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