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No2 seed Sabalenka’s campaign in Dubai is over after shock three-set defeat to Donna Vekic on Centre Court on Tuesday

Reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova and No8 seed Maria Sakkari book their spots in next round, while Azarenka withdraws

Dubai, UAE – February 20, 2024: Reigning Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka crashed out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday following a second-round upset at the hands of Donna Vekic on Centre Court in three sets 7-6, 3-6, 0-6.

Sabalenka, playing her first match since lifting the trophy for a second successive year in Melbourne, clinched the first set in a close tiebreak, but had no answers in the second and third sets for World No31 Vekic, who convincingly took the second, breaking her opponents serve twice, and swept up in the third without dropping a game.

Speaking after the match, Sabalenka admitted she just was not at the races on an afternoon to forget for the World No2. The level was so bad from me. She played amazing tennis, and I didnt play my best at all,” she said. “I feel like the conditions here don't fit me well at all. It's really tricky for me to compete here in Dubai. I won the first set and I was up in the second with a break, but it didnt feel like I was up at all. This court is just a really tricky one for me. Hopefully Ill be in better shape for Indian Wells.” 

Vekic, a four-time WTA singles title winner, revealed after her shock win that she didn’t expect to go far in the 24th edition of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships – which was recently awarded permanent WTA 1000 status. “To be honest, I didn't have big expectations coming to Dubai,” she said. “I told my coach that I'm taking this week as a half-holiday. I can tell you Ive spent more time on the beach than on the court. Maybe that's a good way going forward.”

Meanwhile, No8 seed Maria Sakkari emerged victorious against Emma Navarro in Tuesdays opening match on Centre Court. The Greek star ended her three-game losing streak in style, bettering the American in straight sets 6-2, 6-4 and claiming her first win in Dubai, having gone 0-3 in past appearances at the Championships.

Navarro, who has won the third-most matches of any player on Tour this year, is the first top-25 player Sakarri has faced in 2024. The pair had met just once before in San Diego, where Navarro triumphed in a third-set tiebreak to seal her first career top-20 win. Sakkari, who parted ways with long-time coach Tom Hill last week after six years together, said her struggles early in the season have been a tough hurdle to get over.

The start of the season hasn't been easy. Its been tough - especially after the United Cup where I was playing very good tennis,” she said. “I think going into the Australian Open I went with very high expectations tennis-wise. I've made that mistake a few times already. Hopefully one day I'll learn. The season is long though and we still have three more Grand Slams, and so many 1000s. It only takes one week for things to just turn around and get better.”

Reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova defeated Peyton Stearns 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 to progress. Vondrousova breezed through the first set, winning all 11 of her first serve points. Stearns battled back well to take the second set, but Vondrousova dominated the third to wrap up victory.

I think for us, Dubai is now in our schedule,” the 24-year-old told the media. “It's now a WTA 1000 event and for us it's big points and its full of big matches right from the first round. I think that's the main thing. I feel like everybody likes this. I really like it here.”

Former Wimbledon Champion Elena Rybakina is also through to the round of 16 after her opponent, two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka, was forced to retire before the third set due to injury.

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