Errani, Schmiedlova lead stars into final round of qualifying

  • Matt Trollope

The depth of talent in the women’s game has long been a talking point at Grand Slam events, and it seems it now extends to qualifying draws.

On Tuesday in Dubai, 11 women were on the schedule to compete in second-round qualifying matches who had once been ranked inside the WTA top 40. Former world No.41 Margarita Gasparyan very nearly made it 12. 

By contrast, just five former ATP top-40 players were in action at the same stage of the men’s qualifying event in Doha. 

Gasparyan, with a brilliant one-handed backhand, advanced to the final round with a 6-3 7-6(3) win over Mariam Bolkvadze. There, the No.14 seed will play former world No.31 Tsvetana Pironkova, who continues her exciting return to the tour as a mother.

Last year, an unranked Pironkova entered the US Open, her first event in more than three years. She went all the way to the quarterfinals, extending Serena Williams to three sets, and then advanced to the third round at Roland Garros.

Having now won two rounds of qualifying in Dubai, she has won eight of 10 matches in her comeback.

Errani searching for best

Yet leading the way through to the final round was former world No.5 Sara Errani, who overcame big-hitting Spaniard Georgina Garcia Perez 3-6 6-3 6-2.

Fellow former world No.5, Eugenie Bouchard, suffered a surprise 6-2 6-4 defeat to Yuan Yue. 

In 2012, Errani was a Roland Garros runner-up, a US Open semifinalist and an Australian Open quarterfinalist. She returned to the Roland Garros semifinals in 2013, and was entrenched in the top 10 for two years. 

But she sunk as low as No.366 in mid-2019 as she struggled with her serve and confidence; she admitted she still battles nerves despite having since worked her way back up to No.131.

“I have a lot of nervous tensions that don't let me play free,” Errani said.

“So I just want to try to improve that and try to go up in the ranking.

"I think I'm not playing my best on the match because I want too much to win. When you win more matches, maybe you are more relaxed, you can play easier. 

“(Now) every match is important. You don't play for just Australian Open main draw, but you have opportunity to play more tournaments. So you have more on the price of the match.” 

“I have a lot of nervous tensions that don't let me play free."
Sara Errani

To secure her place in the Australian Open main draw, Errani will have to go through former world No.20 Ana Konjuh.

The Croatian comeback queen, who has endured four elbow surgeries and slipped outside the top 400, beat Turkey’s Cagla Buyukakcay 6-4 6-2.

READ MORE: Konjuh wins epic in Slam comeback

Earlier on Tuesday, former world No.26 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova continued her revival, beating Japan’s Chihiro Muramatsu 6-4 6-3. 

After a 2019 season decimated by injury, the Slovak began 2020 ranked outside the top 200 but has since risen to No.135, helped by third-round run at Roland Garros during which she upset the red-hot Victoria Azarenka.

"It was maybe even the best match of my career,” said Schmiedlova, who has won 17 of her past 24 matches. “Also for my first round I won against Venus Williams, so it was also great match.

"I think last season was really good for me, even when the corona was really bad. When I played, I played really good. I had even more matches I think than other players and I felt really good on court.

“I hope this year will be even better and my ranking will improve.”

Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in action during her AO 2021 second-round qualifying win in Dubai. (Credit: Jorge Ferrari for Tennis Australia)

Schmiedlova peaked at No.26 back in October 2015, just one month after she turned 21. But she remembers subsequently struggling with self-imposed expectations. 

At one stage in 2016 she lost 21 of 25 matches, then dropped as low No.273 in early 2017. She also lost 12 straight first-round matches at Grand Slam main draws until snapping that streak against Venus in Paris in 2020.

This has been a heartwarming return. 

“(Back then) I had nothing to lose. And I didn't appreciate it as I maybe appreciate it now,” she said. 

“I remember I played all the big tournaments, so I know what is the feeling. And I knew I beat many good players. But I feel that my game even improve now and I play a little bit different.

“I hope that I will manage at least to get back to maybe 100 and slowly to top 50. But mostly I want to enjoy it more and don't put so much pressure on me.”

On the march

Schmiedlova’s next opponent will be former world No.25 Timea Babos, who saw off Tessah Andrianjafitrimo 6-3 2-6 6-2.

Babos is the reigning Australian and French Open champion in doubles with Kristina Mladenovic.

Also advancing were former world No.23 Lesia Tsurenko – a straight-sets winner over Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove – and Aleksandra Krunic, who peaked at No.39 in June 2018 and who beat Daniela Seguel 6-2 2-6 6-2.

Krunic next faces rising Egyptian star Mayar Sherif, who continued her winning ways with a three-set victory over Grace Min.

Varvara Lepchenko was another winner, with the American former world No.19 beating fellow lefty Ellen Perez 6-4 2-6 6-3.

Lepchenko, who cracked the top 20 back in 2012, plays third seed Greet Minnen for a place in the AO main draw.

In later matches, former world No.20 Mihaela Buzarnescu scored a three-set win over Claire Liu after Canadian Rebecca Marino ousted 24th seed Viktoriya Tomova.

Marino, who reached a career-high ranking of No.38 a decade ago, quit the sport in 2013 due to depression before making a comeback in 2018.