UNDERDOG BITES BACK
Lesley’s fairytale run continues with win over Sabina
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