Wildcard Mona Barthel rolled into the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, dispatching former No.1 Jelena Jankovic while Samantha Stosur also advanced.
WTA Staff

DUBAI, UAE - German wildcard Mona Barthel put on a strong display to kick off the first night session of this year's Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, knocking out former World No.1 Jelena Jankovic, 6-1, 6-3. Top seed Angelique Kerber looms in the next round.

"I think I played a really good match," she said after the match. "Jelena's a really good player so it's always tough to play against her. I'm just really grateful that I got the wildcard to even have the opportunity to play here."

A former World No.23, Barthel spent most of 2016 dealing with a serious of illnesses and injuries, causing her to fall out of the Top 100. She kickstarted the new year with a run to the fourth round of the Australian Open - her career-best result at a major tournament - and brought her signature firepower to Dubai, rolling past the Serb in just under an hour.

"I just went out there wanting to enjoy it. I think I served well and played an aggressive match from the beginning, so that helped a lot."

Jankovic herself suffered through an injury-addled 12 months, and the lack of matches was evident from the 2008 US Open finalist, who hit an uncharacteristic 28 unforced errors to just nine winners. Barthel, by contrast, struck 18 winners to 15 unforced errors, a solid differential for one who plays with such razor thin margins.

Still, the German was made to work for it in the end; Jankovic leveled the second set after falling behind an early break, and saved the first two match points before booking a second round encounter with her countrywoman and two-time Grand Slam champion.

"The last couple of matches, I had some difficulties closing them out. So I was probably thinking too much about that, but when I got the break I thought, 'Nope, it's not going to happen again!' I was just trying to stick to my gameplan, and not to think too much."

Kerber and Barthel split their last four encounters, though the most recent came in 2013, which the former No.1 took in straight sets at the French Open. Barthel leads their head-to-head 2-1 on hardcourts.

"It's such a strong tournament, featuring the best players in the world, so it's always tough. I'm really happy to have won the first round, and I know playing Angelique won't be easy. But I have nothing to lose so I'll try to go out there and just enjoy. I love this city, and have spent a week here preparing. I'm still so thankful for the opportunity, and look forward to being back on the center court.

"It'll be a great test for me to see where I am right now. It was such a tough year for me last year, so I'm just trying to improve my game every day. I lost a lot of my fitness so I'm still just trying to get back into my rhythm. We've had some really good matches the past, but I'll try to enjoy it."

Earlier in the day, No.12 seed Samantha Stosur eased past Chinese qualifier Zhang Kai-Lin, 6-3, 6-3.

"I thought it was pretty tricky conditions out there, a bit windy and much faster than what we were playing on in Doha, where it was slow and heavy," she said after the match. "Here, it's fast and lively. But overall I'm happy to be in the second round."

Up next for the Qatar Total Open quarterfinalist is either Zhang Shuai or Ana Konjuh.

"I'm feeling a lot better about my tennis at the moment. I gained a bit more confidence again, and winning matches always helps. For a while, I was hitting the ball really well, but then I was struggling with my shoulder. I feel like I've gotten over that hurdle and I'm on the right path again.

Around the grounds, No.15 seed Caroline Garcia knocked out Johanna Larsson, 6-3, 6-3, while two-time Grand Slam semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova dispatched qualifier Zhu Lin, 6-3, 6-1. Japanese hotshot Naomi Osaka advanced over qualifier Chang Kai-Chen, and in the biggest upset of the day, Tunisian qualifier Ons Jabeur stunned No.14 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 7-6(6), 2-6, 6-4.

Click here to hear more from Jabeur in the latest episode of the WTA Insider Podcast.