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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Johanna Konta victorious on debut at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

British No 1 fought back from an early break to defeat Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets.

Johanna Konta of Great Britain returns the ball to Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova during day one of the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship at the Dubai Tennis Stadium on February 19, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / KARIM SAHIB
Johanna Konta of Great Britain returns the ball to Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova during day one of the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship at the Dubai Tennis Stadium on February 19, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / KARIM SAHIB

British No 1 Johanna Konta marked her tournament debut with victory at the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday, coming through her match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets to book a place in the second round.

Last year’s Wimbledon semi-finalist, now ranked 12th in the world, was made to work for the win, rebounding from a break down in the first set to eventually outlast her Russia opponent in the tie-break. She then raced through the next to triumph 7-6, 6-2 at the Aviation Club. Konta faces Russia’s Daria Kasatkina in the second round.

The Sydney-born Brit, 26, had come into the event on the back of a last-16 exit at the Qatar Open to former world No 1 Angelique Kerber. Last month, she crashed out of the Australian Open in the second round, defeated by world No 123 Bernarda Pera.

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Konta looks intent on making up for lost time, though. She was expected to make her Dubai bow last year, but withdrew from the tournament because of a foot injury. Pavlyuchenkova, meanwhile, was making her eighth appearance in Dubai, although her rotten run continues: she has now not won a main-draw match in her past six attempts.

“I actually I came here last year, but I didn't get to play,” Konta said. “I had to pull out on-site. So I'm very happy that I'm back and playing. Hopefully I can stay here for many more days.

“But right now I'm happy I earned my way into the next round. And I have a tough match coming up next again. It's a very tough tournament. There's no easy rounds, there's no easy matches. It's a very, very high cut-off. I'm looking forward to that challenge.”

Elsewhere, former champion Sara Errani came through a scare in qualifying to make it through to the main draw. The Italian, a winner of the tournament two years ago, was 4-1 down in the deciding set against Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka before winning the tie-break to take the match 6-2, 1-6, 7-6. She set up a clash with Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko for a spot in the second round.

A French Open finallist in 2012, Errani has slipped to 143rd in the rankings. Last year, the former world No 5 was suspended for two months for failing a drugs test.

Asked how far she is from her best, Errani replied: “I don't know. It’s tough to say. I keep going. I think I'm in the right way. I need more matches, more confidence. But to arrive this way is good.

“Of course, I know it is too difficult, maybe impossible, to reach the level that I had in 2012, 2013, and last year. I know top 10 is really difficult. It’s not my goal, to be top 10 again. It’s just to have fun playing, to find myself good, to reach the best that I can.”

However, another former champion didn't fare quite as well. Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska, winner in 2012, exited the tournament following a 7-5, 6-4 defeat to Kasatkina.

“Every tournament, to lose in the first round is very disappointing,” Radwanska said. “Of course, that was a really tricky opponent for these tricky conditions here. So it wasn't easy.

“Obviously the tournament is always very strong, so you're not really playing against players that are in the top 40. So you cannot really expect good draw. That was definitely tough one, especially here. But what can I do?”

In some of the day’s other matches, former US Open champion Sam Stosur defeated Greece’s Maria Sakkara 6-1, 6-4 in their qualifier, while rising star Naomi Osaka saw off Frenchwoman Kristina Mladennovic 6-2, 6-2 under the lights on Centre Court.