Sorana Cirstea was among the first round winners at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday. Marion Bartoli set up a second round clash with new World No.1 Serena Williams.
WTA Staff

DUBAI, UAE - The first round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships began with five matches on Monday, and three Top 20 stars took Centre Court at the $2,000,000, Premier-level tournament.

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First up was Sloane Stephens, who moved up to a career-high No.16 this week - but things didn't go her way, as she built a 75 31 lead but eventually wound up falling to Sorana Cirstea, 57 63 62.

"Tough match," Stephens said. "She obviously played some good tennis. Today I didn't play my best tennis. Every match isn't going to go the way you want it, and obviously I got a little frustrated, but no need to dwell on it - you just keep working hard and hanging in there and you'll be okay."

Stephens talked about how all of the attention on her since Australia feels. "It's obviously tough," she said. "I'm in a completely new situation. I'm coming from not being seeded at tournaments to seeded and going to tournaments I've never been before. It's a change for me, and obviously now I have a lot more media responsibilities and other things like that. My life has changed drastically.

"Sometimes it doesn't click right away, but I'm working on it, and I don't feel any pressure."

And on her first trip to Dubai? "I saw the Burj Khalifa and the mall and it was really cool," she said. "It's overwhelming - I'm like, 'Oh my God, there are too many stores, too much stuff to do.'

"I had fun while I was here. It was a short trip, but hopefully next year it will be a bit longer."

Next up on Centre Court was Marion Bartoli, who rallied back to get past Klara Zakopalova, 36 64 61. Zakopalova was up a set and a break, 63 43, and even had a point to go up 63 53 on the World No.11.

"Honestly I felt I played extremely badly the first set and a half, but I managed to play a lot stronger and turn the match around from 63 43 down," Bartoli said after the match. "She won just one game after that so the way I was able to turn the match around today, I'm really pleased with that."

And it doesn't get any easier - Bartoli will face new World No.1 Serena Williams in the next round.

"It's the way it is - it's an extremely tough draw," Bartoli said. "When you come to Dubai, you're not coming to play against someone ranked No.100. You're coming to play the very tough players. And it's going to be a very hard test, but it will show me where I am and where I need to improve."

Is there ever a good time to play Williams? "Maybe at 4am when she hasn't slept for three days, but other than that, you can't really get a tougher challenge than this one," Bartoli added.

Ana Ivanovic, currently No.13 in the world, edged Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the feature night match, 63 76(5), originally leading 4-0 and 5-2 in the second set before closing it in the breaker.

"She really started striking the ball a lot deeper and harder when she had her back against the wall towards the end of the second set," Ivanovic said. "It was getting kind of difficult. I'm really happy I managed to stay in that match and finish in two sets. It really was a good effort, I think."

In other first round matches, Hsieh Su-Wei beat Varvara Lepchenko, 61 63, and Yulia Putintseva edged Laura Robson in a battle of teenage wildcards in the last match of the night, 64 26 76(6).

Urszula Radwanska, Zheng Jie, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Daniela Hantuchova all qualified.