DUBAI, U.A.E. -- Veterans advanced while some top seeds struggled on the first day of Australian Open women's singles qualifying, which is taking place in Dubai this season as players aim to book their spots in the main draw of the year's first Grand Slam event.
2012 Roland Garros finalist Sara Errani of Italy, 2010 Wimbledon semifinalist Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, and current WTA Doubles World No.4 Timea Babos of Hungary are some of the established names who earned wins in the first round on Sunday in the U.A.E.
Former World No.5 Errani, who is seeded 17th in the draw, ousted 2018 Australian Open junior champion Liang En-shuo of Chinese Taipei, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, in nearly two hours of play.
“The courts are really fast, so it’s really tough to play here for me, but I did good preparation and I’m trying my best," said Errani, after the match. "I’m really happy to win today.”
“I love Australia, so I hope to go there, but of course we have to try to do the best of us, of everybody, what we can do, and it’s good to be here in Dubai," Errani continued.
Pironkova, seeded No.21, cruised past Japan's Kyoka Okamura, 6-0, 6-1, in an hour and nine minutes. Pironkova is aiming to continue the Grand Slam success she rekindled last year by reaching the 2020 US Open quarterfinals in her first professional tournament in over three years.
No.7 seed Babos defeated Marina Melnikova of Russia, 6-3, 6-3, in one hour and 11 minutes. The Hungarian, who has also been ranked in the Top 25 in singles, won three-quarters of her first service points and broke her opponent five times.
"I actually wanted to play qualies for the Australian Open, as I didn’t have enough matches for the past year," Babos stated, after her win. "I felt like it would be a good opportunity for me to play qualies, but I was not expecting I would play it in Dubai!"
"But I really like to be here, I was pretty much here all December," Babos continued. "I’m happy to be back on court and to compete again, that’s most important. The first step is done, two more to go, and I’m just happy."
The two highest-seeded players who played on Sunday, though, both fell in the opening round. Frenchwoman Oceane Dodin, the No.2 seed, fell to Bulgaria's Isabella Shinikova, 7-5, 6-2. The break point conversion rates tell the tale of the upset: Shinikova converted five of her six chances, while Dodin held a whopping 16 break points but could only convert two.
No.4 seed Anna-Lena Friedsam also was defeated in an eye-catching first-round match, as the German lost to former Top 20 player Ana Konjuh of Croatia, 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-4. Konjuh, whose run to the 2016 US Open quarterfinals helped propel her to a career-high ranking of World No.20, fired nine aces en route to prevailing in two hours and 18 minutes.
Konjuh, who is coming back from injuries, has gone 13-4 in ITF Challenger events since September. "I was out for more than a year and a half, so just getting back on the court was a big step for me," Konjuh said, after her win. "I realized that I needed some smaller matches to start with, to get accustomed to the matches and the rhythm of the tournaments."
"I'm really happy that I've done well so far, I think, and I'm just excited to see what's to come," Konjuh continued.
Other top seeds were more fortunate to get through: No.6 seed Anna Kalinskaya of Russia defeated Hungary's Dalma Galfi, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3, and No.9 seed Katarina Zavatska of Ukraine ousted 2019 Australian Open junior champion Clara Tauson of Denmark, 6-3, 6-3.
Reigning Australian Open junior champion Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva of Andorra also lost in the first round, as she was beaten by Turkey's Cagla Buyukakcay, 6-4, 6-4.
The first round continues on Monday with No.1 seed Kaja Juvan, No.3 seed Greet Minnen, and former World No.5 Eugenie Bouchard all scheduled to play.