Qualifier Elena-Gabriela Ruse scored the biggest win of her career in the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, coming from 4-1 down in the decider to upset No.3 seed Paula Badosa 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 in 2 hours and 32 minutes.
Ruse had been winless in 10 previous matches against Top 30 opposition, and had not taken a set in either of her two prior clashes with Top 10 players. A junior peer of Badosa, she had also lost to the Spaniard in both of their matches at that level.
However, Ruse has been surging over the past year, winning her maiden WTA title in Hamburg last July as a qualifier and backing it up with a runner-up showing in Palermo. She went on to crack the Top 100 in September, and this week qualified for Dubai without dropping a set against Anastasia Gasanova, Jasmine Paolini and Ajla Tomljanovic.
Badosa, playing her first match as a Top 5 player, was coming off a strong Australian swing in which she put together an eight-match winning streak between the Sydney title and a fourth-round showing at the Australian Open. But despite taking the momentum from a second-set comeback into a hefty third-set lead, she would ultimately succumb to Ruse's irresistibly bold shotmaking in pressure moments.
Match management: Each set was typified by Ruse seizing control in its closing few games. In the first set, she captured the crucial break for 5-3 by upping the ante with her forehand. In the second, serving at 3-4, she responded to Badosa bringing up the first break point of the set with a flurry of dazzling winners to hold.
As is so often the case after a missed opportunity to break, Badosa's level fell in the subsequent game, and she coughed up a double fault to give Ruse the 5-4 lead. But the lower-ranked player was unable to serve out the win, lapsing into groundstroke error and offering up a double fault of her own. Ruse continued to go for her shots, but her radar had become inconsistent, and she netted a backhand facing a second set point.
Indeed, Badosa would win eight out of nine games during this stretch of play; while her baseline play wasn't as spectacular as Ruse's, she had kept the scoreboard close with solid serving. This seemed to pay off when she broke for 3-1 in the third set, aided by another pair of Ruse double faults and a wide backhand on the game's fourth break point.
But on the verge of defeat, Ruse rediscovered her finest form to essay a remarkable resurgence through the last five games of the match. Reeling off a slew of winners from both wings, Ruse responded to adversity with panache and bravery, and made no mistake when serving for the match a second time.
What's next for Ruse: A third clash with compatriot Simona Halep, to whom she has lost twice since October. Halep has won her past 17 matches against fellow Romanians at all levels, and has yet to lose to a countrywoman in a WTA main draw.
Svitolina advances past Sherif, Ostapenko ousts Kenin
No.10 seed and two-time champion Elina Svitolina also moved into the second round with a 6-2, 6-3 win over wildcard Mayar Sherif in 1 hour and 27 minutes. The Ukrainian, who won Dubai in 2017 and 2018, was too solid for the World No.65, who repeatedly overpressed in a bid to keep control of the court.
Sherif, who became the first Egyptian woman to reach a WTA final in Cluj-Napoca last August, showed off her best tennis when attempting to fight off danger. She conjured a series of sweet dropshots when serving to stay in the first set and when facing break points at the start of the second.
But they were to no avail. Svitolina needed five deuces and three set points to close out the first set, but eventually did so when Sherif netted a forehand; and she broke for 2-0 in the second after four deuces after again drawing the error after a bruising extended rally. Sherif battled hard, saving a match point on her own serve by finding a pass. But a wild return squandered a break-back opportunity in the next game, and a forehand over the baseline enabled Svitolina to convert her second match point.
Elsewhere, a battle of unseeded former Grand Slam champions saw Jelena Ostapenko rout Sofia Kenin 6-1, 6-2 in only 52 minutes. The Latvian fired seven aces and dropped six points behind her first serve. After falling behind by an early break in the second set, Ostapenko raced through the next six games for the loss of six more points.
Ostapenko will next take on No.6 seed Iga Swiatek, while Svitolina will face Jil Teichmann. In a first-round match that pitted last year's two losing semifinalists against each other, Teichmann got the better of Elise Mertens 6-2, 6-4.