DUBAI, UAE - Elena Vesnina came through a difficult second set to shock WTA World No.6 Jelena Ostapenko, 6-1, 7-6 (6), and move into the quarterfinals of the Dubai Duty Free Shopping Tennis Championships.
The WTA World No.23 was eliminated in the third round of this competition last year and ensured that she at least reached that stage this time around, with a quick start to the match providing the platform for her success.
Meanwhile, Ostapenko came into this match after a poor start to the year, with her best win coming against WTA World No.93 Francesca Schiavone in the Australian Open and looked out of sorts from the beginning as she made a mountain of unforced errors. Her level, though, would improve steadily as the match progressed, making for an exciting climax.
"I'm really happy to have won this match," Vesnina said. "At the end it was really close. We were both giving our best and we were fighting the end - it was set point, then match point, it was up and down.
"Jelena is a young star and she's a really good player - it's tough to beat her."
Vesnina had the benefit of having played singles already this week, defeating Peng Shuai in straight sets in the first round, and looked thoroughly at home on court from the outset in what was a fast and furious beginning.
Lengthy rallies were non-existent and often ended with the 31-year-old striking a winner or her opponent making an unforced error. Indeed, there was little contest as the Russian claimed the first four games before her opponent broke back.
It was but a brief respite for the misfiring Ostapenko as another flurry of unforced errors arrived in the following game and with it the inevitable loss of serve, which gave Vesnina scope for error that she did not require as she sealed the set 6-1.
Having won only three points of serve in the first set, the Latvian immediately set about improving in the second and held to love. However, the errors continued to flow off her racquet, which seemed to encourage her opponent into ever more effective defence, with Vesnina taking the initiative by breaking in the third game.
But with victory within sight, Vesnina’s game became increasingly erratic as her nerve appeared to wobble. Three double faults in a single game allowed the improving Ostapenko to level at 4-4.
It was some fabulous play from the Latvian that allowed her to rescue her serve from 0-40 down in the 11th game when again she seemed to be wavering.
Vesnina tightened her game up to force a tie break, in which she seemed willing to gamble that simply getting the ball in court would be sufficient for success. The pace was often changed, making life awkward for the hard-hitting Ostapenko, but though the 20-year-old won a dramatic rally at 3-4 down by landing a volley plum on the line, Vesnina came through a thrilling decider as the Latavian twice hit long.
"You have to mix it up. We were hitting it hard and flat from the baseline. I took my chance and it paid off," Vesnina said.
No.7 seed Johanna Konta or Daria Kasatkina will be Vesnina's opponent in the last eight.
"Everyone knows I'm really good friends with Dasha - she's my sweetheart. And Jo is a top 10 player. I don't have a preference. Whoever wins, I'll be ready to play against her," Vesnina concluded, having booked her place in a quarterfinal for the first time since Indian Wells last March.