ABU DHABI, U.A.E. -- No.2 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine booked safe passage into the second round of the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open on Thursday, easing past Jessica Pegula of the United States, 6-4, 6-3, in the nightcap match on Centre Court.
"I really, really enjoyed being out there," Svitolina told the media after her win. "The conditions were not easy today, with the wind going around the court and changing all the time, so I tried to really stay focused on what I had to do on the court, and in the end, there were no ups and downs. It was quite a solid performance from me for the first match."
World No.5 Svitolina was facing off against 63rd-ranked Pegula for the first time, and the Ukrainian broke her opponent's service three times on the day to wrap up the 80-minute victory over the hard-hitting American.
"[There are] still a few things that I have to improve for the next match and to try to get better, but for the start, I think it definitely was a good match," Svitolina stated. "I will try to get on the court tomorrow, to work on a few things here and there, to be even better."
"For me, every match is like a test," Svitolina continued. "I try to really do everything that I practiced, and what I really worked on. So I try to be just focused on every point and see how it goes."
Svitolina's opening-round win is a step towards continuing her legacy of strong results in the Middle East, as she has won the Dubai title in 2017 and 2018, and reached the Doha semifinals in 2019.
Pegula, who was seeking her first-ever Top 10 victory in her fifth meeting versus members of that cohort, fired 19 winners in the match, two more than Svitolina. However, the American was unable to achieve a breakthrough on her opponent's serve, failing to convert any of her four break points.
An early break for 2-1 helped Svitolina take command right away, although the Ukrainian had to stare down three break points at 4-3 as Pegula tried to get the opening frame back on equal terms. Svitolina, though, kept her composure to hold on for 5-3 and put the pressure squarely back at Pegula’s feet.
The American was able to hold on for 5-4, and a stunning backhand crosscourt winner got her into the mix of the next game at 30-30. A long return by Pegula, though, gave Svitolina a set point, which she dutifully converted with a deep forehand winner which landed square on the baseline.
The average rally length increased in the second set as both combatants were tracking down as many shots as possible to gain the upper hand. Though Svitolina was the first to face a break point in the set, at 2-2, the Ukrainian got out of that jam and ended up taking the early lead in the next game by forcing a netted error for the break.
Serving at 3-2, Svitolina fell behind 0-30, but she used a combination of stellar defense and pristine placement to steer her way back into the lead, eventually consolidating the hold for 4-2. A dropshot winner by Pegula on her next game point helped the American get back on track and stay within touching distance at 4-3, but an easy hold for 5-3 by Svitolina put her on the cusp of victory.
In the following game, a huge service return by Svitolina caused Pegula to net her reply, queuing up the second seed’s first match point. There, another stellar return by the World No.5 drew one final error from Pegula, that one long, and Svitolina had successfully sailed into the second round in the U.A.E.
In her upcoming match, Svitolina will face the winner of the match between French qualifier Amandine Hesse and former World No.2 Vera Zvonareva, which is also a Thursday night clash.