(February 20, 2020) Elena Rybakina claimed her first win over a top 5 opponent on Thursday when she defeated world No. 4 Karolina Pliskova 7-6 (1) 6-3 to reach the semifinals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Top seed Simona Halep defeated seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka 3-6 6-2 6-2 in Thursday’s quarterfinals. Elena Rybakina claimed her first win over a top 5 opponent when she defeated world number 4 Karolina Pliskova 7-6 (1) 6-3, and she was joined by qualifier Jennifer Brady, who in another upset overcame Australian Open finalist Garbine Muguruza 6-7 (5) 6-3 6-4. Eighth seed Petra Martic overcame Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (4) 6-1.
Rybakina’s win continues a remarkable run. She was ranked 192 a year ago and this week she entered the top 20 for the first time at 19. She has won more matches than any other player on the WTA Tour this year, leads the WTA Tour in the number of aces hit, and she has reached the final of three out of the four tournaments she has played in 2020, winning Hobart and finishing as runner-up at the Shenzhen Open and last Sunday in St. Petersburg.
Even changing from playing indoors in the Russian winter to playing outdoors in the heat of Dubai has not broken her stride, as in her very first match at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships she defeated recent Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin.
“I knew I have to serve good today,” said Rybakina, who hit 11 aces against Pliskova. “I knew also that it’s not going to be long rallies. I was preparing myself just to return. First three balls I had to play, like, really focused. I was trying to do it. It was hot. It was tough match because first time actually I played here in the heat. It was really difficult for me to came just from indoors. I thought that I will have problems with the serve because indoors it’s different feeling. I’m surprised with my serve, that I’m really doing good, yeah.”
In the semifinals, Halep will play Brady and Martic will face Rybakina.
Halep, who won the title in 2015, had saved a match point before overcoming Ons Jabeur in their previous round, and she was again taken to three sets by Sabalenka.
“Well, at the beginning it was a little bit fast everything, too powerful,” said Halep. “Since I got the rhythm, it was much easier for me to feel the game. I think I played quicker in the second set and third set. She didn’t have time to stay and to hit the ball. So I think that was the key of the match.”
Despite her defeat, Pliskova was not too disappointed with her week and how she had played.
“She played well. I didn’t do that much wrong,” said Pliskova. “Overall I think I tried to be aggressive which with her is tough because you don’t get that many chances to be aggressive, especially on the returns. It was about a couple points. It could go both ways I think. Not every week not making the final is a bad week. For me was not bad week here. A lot of positives. I thought my attitude was great.”
Brady had begun the season by beating world number 1 Ashleigh Barty in Brisbane and when she arrived in Dubai she did not drop a set in qualifying before upsetting former two-time champion Elina Svitolina in the first round.
“I think really the match started from 3-2 in the second set for me,” said Brady of her match against Muguruza. “Never really felt like I was in the match from the very beginning. I think maybe a bit of nerves from both of us. Yeah, happy that I was able to close it out at the end. I wasn’t feeling my best. Yeah, maybe didn’t play my best tennis, but just found a way to stay in there, compete, come out on top.”
Muguruza felt she wasn’t able to capitalize on her chances.
“I had so many opportunities. I can’t count how many I had,” she said. “They didn’t go my way. I felt like every time I had an opportunity she was playing well the point, serving big, making winners. I was expecting a tough match. I mean, she’s playing great. I think she’s confident, her shots are getting in. I think she has a very good serve. Her ball is pretty hard.”
Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
February 17-22, 2020
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
RESULTS – FEBRUARY 20, 2020
Singles – Quarterfinals
 S. Halep (ROU) d  A. Sabalenka (BLR) 36 62 62
E. Rybakina (KAZ) d  Ka. Pliskova (CZE) 76(1) 63
 P. Martic (CRO) d A. Kontaveit (EST) 76(4) 61
[Q] J. Brady (USA) d  G. Muguruza (ESP) 67(5) 63 64
Doubles – Quarterfinals
 S. Hsieh (TPE) / B. Strycova (CZE) d S. Kenin (USA) / B. Mattek-Sands (USA) 63 60
 B. Krejcikova (CZE) / S. Zheng (CHN) d  N. Melichar (USA) / Y. Xu (CHN) 64 57 13-11
 G. Dabrowski (CAN) / S. Zhang (CHN) d L. Kichenok (UKR) / N. Kichenok (UKR) 62 64
D. Krawczyk (USA) / A. Riske (USA) d H. Carter (USA) / L. Stefani (BRA) 63 46 10-6
ORDER OF PLAY – FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 2020
CENTRE COURT start 2:00 pm
 B. Krejcikova (CZE) / S. Zheng (CHN) vs D. Krawczyk (USA) / A. Riske (USA)
Not Before 5:00 pm
 P. Martic (CRO) vs E. Rybakina (KAZ)
Not Before 7:00 pm
 S. Halep (ROU) vs [Q] J. Brady (USA)
 S. Hsieh (TPE) / B. Strycova (CZE) vs  G. Dabrowski (CAN) / S. Zhang (CHN)