Kristina Mladenovic earned her third career Top 5 win at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, serving out Doha winner Karolina Pliskova in straight sets.
WTA Staff

DUBAI, UAE - Kristina Mladenovic backed up her St. Petersburg title in a big way on Tuesday evening, shocking Qatar Total Open champion and No.2 seed Karolina Pliskova, 6-3, 6-4, to reach the round of 16 at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

"It definitely feels great having a first title under my belt," she said during her on-court interview. "It gave me lots of confidence and kind of a release because it made me feel like the work is paying off."

Mladenovic and Pliskova have battled through one of the tour's bourgeoning rivalries; the pair last met in the fall at a dramatic Fed Cup final, which the US Open finalist won 16-14 in the third. The Frenchwoman has a training base in Dubai and appeared primed for revenge, hitting 15 winners and breaking serve four times in the one hour and 15 minute encounter.

"It's always special to play a good friend of mine; Kaja is the player to beat, but I think I played great and I took advantage of her low first serve percentage."

Pliskova was coming off a win in Doha, but as Mladenovic noted, only managed 47% on her first serve - though she only lost eight points when successful.

"I didn't feel like my tennis at all," she said after the match. "The conditions here totally different compared to Doha. I just hit one day yesterday for practice.

"Obviously she played well."

Still, Pliskova came close to a comeback in the final game, holding a pair of break points as her rival served for the match.

"I think I was mentally like there. I was still trying, even in the second set. But I was just playing really bad, so there is not much what you can do about it. Like, I still had a chance in the second set, you know, to change this to have 5-4, but yeah, she played some good points.

"But I didn't play almost anything today. Few aces, and that's it."

"I'm most surprised of all, because usually we always have tough battles, and the last one was very epic," Mladenovic added, referencing their Fed Cup match. "I just came on court strong, ready to play for as long as I needed to, fighting out there.

"I thought I played very aggressively on return. At the beginning, she double faulted a couple of times and it's always weird when we know each other so well. I think I was lucky that the first serve percentage wasn't that high from her; it's her biggest weapon, but I definitely took advantage and overall I'm happy about my performance.

"It looked maybe easy with the scoreboard, but it was definitely difficult, like, pressure-wise," she continued in her post-match press conference, "because I could feel Karolina probably needed some time to adjust, you know, her shots, her rhythm from coming from Doha where it's completely different conditions. I know that.

"But in the same time, you know, she has obviously confidence from the beginning of the season and having also that win last week.

"So it's tricky, because from one side you can see that here and there, if you fight, if you stay very solid, she can give you some unforced errors she wouldn't give normally, but in the same time, I could feel that she was fighting from the first point to adjust as fast as possible.

"We could see in the second set, I mean, it's one point from being at 5-All, and then it's another match. It's totally different. You never know what can happen."

Up next for Mladenovic is Wang Qiang, who ended qualifer Ons Jabeur's impressive run, 6-3, 6-1.

"I'm not sure I know her well, but if she's in the third round, it means she must be playing really well," said Mladenovic. "I'll just enjoy this win and try to prepare as best I can, maybe enjoy bit of the players' party tonight because I feel like I'm at home in Dubai. It's like a home tournament for me, and I really love it!"