UNDERDOG BITES BACK

Les­ley’s fairy­tale run con­tin­ues with win over Sabina

New Straits Times - - Sport - AJITPAL SINGH ajit­pals­ingh@nst.com.my

LES­LEY Kerkhove of the Nether­lands is lov­ing ev­ery mo­ment of be­ing an underdog in the WTA Malaysian Open at TPC Kuala Lumpur.

In the bat­tle of qual­i­fiers yes­ter­day, the World No 195 con­tin­ued her fairy tale run by over­com­ing 155th-ranked Sabina Sharipova of Uzbek­istan 6-4, 6-4 to qual­ify for her first ever quar­ter-fi­nals on the tour.

On Mon­day, Les­ley, who had to ne­go­ti­ate two rounds in the qual­i­fiers, won her first ever main draw match by over­com­ing sev­enth seed Elise Mertens of Bel­gium.

Les­ley will play World No 106

Nao Hib­ino of Ja­pan in the last eight to­mor­row. Nao made the quar­ter-fi­nals with­out lift­ing her rac­quet af­ter top seed Elina Svi­tolina of

Ukraine with­drew yes­ter­day.

The World No 10 and de­fend­ing cham­pion was ad- vised to rest and re­cover from a left Achilles in­jury.

“I am re­ally happy to make my first tour quar­ter-fi­nals. I played her late last year and I knew what was com­ing,” said Les­ley.

“Sabina did not make any mis­takes and led 4-1 in the first set by break­ing my serve once. But from then on, I played re­ally ag­gres­sive for the points.”

Be­ing the low­est ranked player in the quar­ter-fi­nals is not mak­ing Les­ley, 26, ner­vous. In fact, she is ea­ger to go far.

“I have been play­ing higher ranked play­ers since the first round of qual­i­fiers. I like to be an underdog. I like be­ing in this sit­u­a­tion and I am en­joy­ing ev­ery mo­ment of it,” she said.

The Rot­ter­dam-based player said she has not seen Nao play in the tour­na­ment but she will be pre­pared for the in­tense bat­tle.

The with­drawal of Elina meant that all the top three seeds are out of the tour­na­ment.

On Tues­day, sec­ond seed Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain and third seed Caroline Gar­cia of France were ousted in the first round.

China’s Zhang Kai Lin checked into the quar­ter-fi­nals with a 6-2, 64 win over Ja­pan’s Risa Ozaki.

The World No 131 will play qual­i­fiers Ash­leigh Barty of Aus­tralia or Miyu Kato of Ja­pan for a spot in the semi-fi­nals.

Kai Lin said the ab­sences of the top three seeds have given the lower-ranked play­ers a chance to make an im­pres­sion.

Nao was pleased to make the last eight but is dis­ap­pointed that she missed the chance of tak­ing on a World top 10 player.

RE­SULTS — 2nd rd: Nao Hib­ino (Jpn) bt Elina Svi­tolina (Ukr) re­tired; Les­ley Kerkhove (Ned) bt Sabina Sharipova (Uzb) 6-4, 6-4; Zhang Kai-Lin (Chn) bt Risa Ozaki (Jpn) 6-2, 6-4.

Les­ley Kerkhove in ac­tion in her sec­ond round match against Sabina Sharipova in the Malaysian Open yes­ter­day.

PIC BY OS­MAN AD­NAN

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