Flavia Pennetta admits her game has deserted her so far in 2015 but she still managed to dig deep and save four match points en route to a gruelling 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 victory over lucky loser Julia Goerges in Dubai.
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The Italian, who was given a wildcard into the Dubai main draw, survived a rollercoaster affair against Goerges, who looked well on her way into the second round as she raced to a 6-2, 5-2 lead and held four match points in the eighth game of set two.
But Pennetta, who was winless this season heading into the tournament, held on and rallied back, taking three games in a row to level for 5-5 and she forced a tiebreak.
The world No14 opened up a 6-1 gap in the breaker and although Goerges saved the first two set points, the German surrendered on the third as the match went to a decider.
Pennetta felt the momentum shifting to her side and broke for a 2-0 lead in the final set. She served for the match at 5-3 but Goerges still had some resolve in her, breaking for 4-5. But Pennetta was unfazed, and she broke again to seal her comeback victory and book a second round against either Qiang Wang or Kurumi Nara.
Asked how she turned things around, a breathless Pennetta said: “I don’t know.
“I just was playing until the last point and believe until the last point. I was almost crying on the court today because I was feeling so bad.
“But I know sometimes you don’t feel really good in the beginning of the year. Last year I was really good in the beginning, and this year I tried to find my time and my good tennis. But it’s not coming.
“I have to play with what I have now. It’s not too much.
“But I like to fight, so this is important. For the moment I just accept (the situation).”
Pennetta’s start to last season saw her make the quarters at the Australian Open and Dubai and win the title in Indian Wells – a stark contrast from her 2015 campaign so far, where she has just one win from three matches played.
“(Things change) so quickly (in tennis),” said Pennetta, who turns 33 next week.
“We are used to. I think it is the same in life. Some years are perfect and amazing and some years it’s a disaster. You just keep going.”
Germany’s Sabine Lisicki also registered her first singles victory of the season here , dismissing Monica Niculescu 6-3, 6-4 with the help of 16 aces.
Last year’s runner-up Alize Cornet survived a bizarre and lengthy clash with Kirsten Flipkens. The Frenchwoman was denied a match point in the second set tiebreak when her lob was incorrectly called out and it looked like she was on her way to defeat when Flipkens, who needed medical attention for her knee between the first and second sets, took the break and raced to a 3-0 lead in the final set.
But Cornet rallied and took the last six games of the match to seal her victory in 3 hours and 11 minutes.
“I was tired, I was sweating, I was dead,” said Cornet. “Finally I made it. Don’t know exactly how but I think I just kept fighting on every point and it worked out.
“We hugged because we are good friends and she told me ‘pu***n’ , it’s a bad word in French. She was exhausted.”
Cornet couldn’t challenge that lob that was called out because she ran out of challenges but they showed the replay on TV that her ball was in fact good.
“They showed it? Oh my God, you know I told the chair umpire, I told her ‘when you see the replay, you will think of me. You will think of me’,” said Cornet.
After 3hr 11 minutes, last year’s Dubai runner-up Alize Cornet wins 6 straight games to overcome Flipkens 6-0, 6-7 (6), 6-3 2 make 2nd round
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) February 15, 2015
Earlier in the day, ex-US Open winner Sam Stosur eased past Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6-3, 6-1 to set-up a second round with 2011 Dubai champion Caroline Wozniacki.
Former finalist Svetlana Kuznetsova benefitted from a retirement to book a second round date with seventh-seeded Angelique Kerber. The Russian’s opponent Kaia Kanepi was forced to pull out of their first round with a lower back injury.
“It’s a little bit frustrating from so cold weather, we’ve been in Krakow and Moscow for two weeks, it was so cold, the surface was so slow and here it’s so fast, it takes time to get used to,” Kuznetsova told Sport360.
“But still I’m happy to be in Dubai. I didn’t come here last year. I used to be a resident here, so I really missed this city and I’m happy to be back.”
Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic beat Italian Kari Knapp 6-4, 6-4 and will face defending champion Venus Williams in the second round on Monday.
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