It was a match that featured numerous fine rallies, but Stephens lacked aggression and fell victim to Safarova’s greater consistency and more reliable serve.
After the first three games went against serve, Safarova held to lead 3-1 and broke serve again to take the opening set. She also held the upper hand for most of the second set, but still found herself looking at a third as Stephens made a late bid to turn the match around.
Stephens had to fight off two break points at 1-0 and two more which would have left her opponent serving at 5-3, but she then broke Safarova to lead 5-4 and served for the set. But Safarova responded by breaking Stephens to love, and then broke a final time at 6-5 for the match.
Also into the second round is recent Pattaya winner Ekaterina Makarova, who overcame a solid challenge from Alisa Kleybanova to win 6-4 6-7 6-4. The reward for the player currently coached by former French Open champion Anastasia Myskina is a second round clash with top seed and world number one Serena Williams.
Kleybanova, who reached the Top 20 for the first time after reaching the quarter-finals here in 2011, later had to leave the WTA Tour for a long period after she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
“We have enjoyed some excellent tennis right from the start of this year’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman of tournament owners and organisers Dubai Duty Free. “Lucie Safarova is playing here for the sixth time, and her greater experience clearly played a part in her well-earned win over one of the rising stars of the game, Sloane Stephens.”
There was a huge surprise in the final round of the qualifying matches when Australian Open semi-finalist and world number 19 Eugenie Bouchard was beaten 6-1 6-4 by Annika Beck.
Others to advance to the main draw were 2013 US Open semi-finalist Flavia Pennetta, who overwhelmed Yvonne Meusburger 6-1 6-3, Karolina Pliskova, who beat Camila Giorgi 7-5 6-2, and Maryna Zanevska recovered from losing the first five games to defeat Mona Barthel 7-6 6-4.
“The qualifying draw was as tough as many main draws that take place on the WTA Tour, with even a Grand Slam semi-finalist failing to survive,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “It took a tremendous effort for the four players to qualify, but their work this week has only just begun as they join a field that includes seven of the world’s Top 10.”
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is held under the patronage of H H Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Play in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships began on 17 February with the WTA event, which concludes on 22nd February and features seven of the world’s top 10, including world number one Serena Williams, defending champion Petra Kvitova, former winners Caroline Wozniacki and Agnieszka Radwanska, 2011 US Open winner Samantha Stosur and Serbian former world number ones Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic.
Play then continues between 24th February and 1st March with the action-packed ATP tournament that includes defending champion Novak Djokovic, five-time winner Roger Federer, recent Australian Open semi-finalist Tomas Berdych, former US Open winner and recent Sydney champion Juan Martin Del Potro, and charismatic Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is owned and operated by Dubai Duty Free, and held under the patronage of H H Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.