DUBAI, UAE - No.1 seed Elina Svitolina became the first player to defend the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title in eight years, capturing her second title of 2018 with a solid 6-4, 6-0 defeat of unseeded Daria Kasatkina.
The feat puts the Ukrainian into good company: previously, the only back-to-back champions in Dubai had been Justine Henin (2003-4) and Venus Williams (2009-10). Moreover, this marks the first time that Svitolina has defended a title above International level (having lifted consecutive Baku trophies in 2013-14).
The 23-year-old was forced to come through a number of cagy rallies in the first set, though, as two of the game's best counterpunchers probed at each other's weaknesses. Though it was Kasatkina who displayed more variety - en route to holding in the seventh game, the 20-year-old put so much spin on one ball that it bounced diagonally up at Svitolina - the Ukrainian was more efficient at adding aggressive plays to her game.
Moreover, adding to her reputation as one of the sharpest match players on tour, Svitolina's instinct for stepping up at the right moments to seize momentum, or to shut her opponent's down, was in full swing. After Kasatkina let a break point in the second game of the match pass with a tamely netted backhand, Svitolina immediately injected pace into her own groundstrokes to hold; after a handful of forehand mistakes from the Russian conceded the first break for 2-3, the World No.4 stamped her authority firmly on the next game to consolidate it, hammering her first of several inside-out forehand winners of the day.
The most exciting passage of play saw Kasatkina reprise her refusal to submit to the brink of defeat at the close of the first set. Serving to stay in it, last year's Charleston champion staved off three set points with stubborn baseline play, including a forehand winner struck off a Svitolina overhead. However, the three-time major quarterfinalist was able to put the disappointment behind her to serve the set out with little drama in the subsequent game as Kasatkina offered up three straight errant groundstrokes.
Indeed, there were altogether too many such tired errors - 34 in total - from the World No.24, who had spent nine hours and five minutes on court to reach the final this week compared to Svitolina's mere four hours and 47 minutes, and had been forced to fend off match points in two separate rounds: two against No.7 seed Johanna Konta in the second round, and three against No.2 seed Garbiñe Muguruza in the semifinals.
It had been a gruelling week, and when Kasatkina threw caution to the wind in the second set to raise her own levels of offensive play - from flattening out her forehand to approaching the net - her efforts merely resulted in more mistakes cascading from her racket. Svitolina, her finger ever on the scoreboard pulse, waited for the right moments to strike, sealing the double break on her fourth break point of the third game by hammering her hardest return of the day at her rival's feet.
Even with a 4-0 lead, the defending champion was too careful to coast: with Kasatkina threatening to find a semblance of range at deuce, Svitolina came up with her first serve-and-volley play of the day, and closed the game out with a brilliant backhand crosscourt angle. One game later, on her first match point, the Ukrainian sealed the Dubai double with her 18th winner of the day - appropriately enough, another inside-out forehand.
Earlier, the unseeded duo of Chinese Taipei's Chan Hao-Ching and China's Yang Zhaoxuan had upset No.4 seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai 4-6, 6-2, [10-6] to win their first title together, having joined forces for the first time just last week in Doha. Chan and Yang had let a break lead slip in the first set but roared back from 1-5 down in the match tiebreak to capture nine of the last 10 points, sealing victory with two consecutive Chan interceptions.
The title marks Chan's 14th career title, fourth at Premier level - and first of those without sister Latisha by her side. It is Yang's first trophy above International level, and third career title overall. Meanwhile, two-time major champions Hsieh and Peng walk away with the runner-up plate in the fourth tournament since their reformation as a team, but will have to wait for a 13th title together after a result that chips their remarkable finals record to 12-2.