Pe’er sets up desert clash with Dane

Israeli star to face world No. 2 Wozniacki in Dubai quarterfinals.

Shahar Pe’er (photo credit: Nousha Salimi/AP)
Shahar Pe’er
(photo credit: Nousha Salimi/AP)
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – After making a surprise run to the semifinals last year, Shahar Pe’er is proving once again that she feels right at home here in this desert oasis.
On Thursday, Pe’er, ranked 11 in the world, defeated Yanina Wickmayer (25) 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the third round of the Dubai Tennis Championships.
She will face world number two Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals on Friday, 12 months after defeating the Dane in the last 16 at the same event.
Wozniacki will be wellrested ahead of the quarterfinal match after steamrolling her way through Japanese qualifier Ayumi Morita 6-1, 6-0 on Center Court on Thursday night.
However, the 20-year-old starlet expressed some concern about being required to play on Court Two, due to security measures in place to protect Pe’er.
“Having to play on an outside court is completely different,” Wozniacki said. “[Pe’er] has a big advantage. The court is quicker, there’s not as much space on the sides, and the ball travels differently.”
It will be Wozniacki’s first venture to a side court since her loss to Pe’er here last year, a straight-set defeat in the third round.
Wozniacki said she understood the decision.
“The most important thing for me is that I’m safe,” she said. “If they think it’s not safe to play on Center Court, then of course I’ll play on Court 2. There’s nothing you can do. I would have loved to play on Center Court, no doubt about it. It’s a nice court, and it has Hawk-Eye as well.”
Pe’er, who was not allowed to comment on her security situation, focused on the match itself.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Pe’er, who has lost to Wozniacki once since last February, in October’s China Open semifinals. “She’s playing her best tennis right now, so it’s going to be a tough one.”
As an appetizer for Friday’s match, Pe’er had her first dose of deja vu on Thursday – she also defeated Wickmayer in Dubai last year.
“Last year against Yanina was a tough match, 7-5 in the third,” she said. “But today was also tough. I came back from behind, and I’m happy I won.”
The Court One stands were about two-thirds full by the middle of the match, and Pe’er had far more support in the crowd than she did in Wednesday’s win over Alexandra Dulgheru, though Wickmayer’s supporters were louder and more numerous.
The Israeli, ranked ninth in the tournament, struggled early on, missing several of her first serves by a few meters. A double fault in her second service game handed Wickmayer an early 3-1 lead.
But she broke back with some terrific returns, including two inside-out forehands that nicked the line and froze the Belgian.
Pe’er’s service problems continued as Wickmayer broke once more to take a 4- 2 lead, and eventually served out to take the first set.
The second set featured a string of six consecutive breaks, giving the match a topsy-turvy feel, with both players struggling to find any sustained momentum.
But Pe’er felt in control.
“I think I was controlling the whole second set,” she said. “I was always a break up, but I always got broken pretty easily.”
At one point late in that run of breaks, Pe’er turned towards her father, Dov, in the stands and exclaimed frustratedly in Hebrew, “I don’t know how to serve!” The turning point came at 4-4, with those breaks in her rearview mirror.
“At four-all I served a really good game,” Pe’er said. “I started to play better. I think that game at four-all was when things started to go my way.”
Up 5-4, Pe’er came out of a rest looking more energized, determined to get one last break. She got three quick points to give herself three chances to head to a third set.
Wickmayer, whose second round win over China’s Na Li ended late Wednesday night, mustered the strength to get back to deuce, and Pe’er looked to be in danger of letting any advantage slip away.
But the 23-year-old summoned the intensity she had harnessed at the start of the game, and pushed the match to the third set with two mammoth returns.
The third set looked as if it might continue the breaky trend of the second, as Pe’er fell behind 15-40 in the opening game.
But she turned to some tricky serves to restore some order to the match.
At the same time, Wickmayer’s fatigue seemed to start to get the better of her, as the Belgian’s unforced errors became far too frequent and too egregious, and she handed Pe’er an advantage in the second game, her forehand not the weapon it was in the first set.
From that point on, Pe’er coasted to the win, breaking the 20-year-old once more in the process, and flashing a look of relief and excitement towards her father and coach after match point.
But the afternoon wasn’t over yet for the Israeli.
Only 30 minutes later, Pe’er was back on Court One, teaming up with Romanian Monica Niculescu to take on American Lisa Raymond and Australian Samantha Stosur in the second round of the doubles tournament.
Pe’er could have taken as much time as she wanted, but chose to take as short a break as possible.
“I didn’t want to get cool and need to warm up again,” she said. “It’s better to get going as fast as possible after I finish.”
Pe’er and Niculescu fell 7- 5, 5-7, 10-7 in what was a close match that will perhaps be remembered best for an extremely questionable call that robbed the Israeli- Romanian pair of set point in the first.
Niculescu delivered a beautiful lob that appeared to drop several inches inside the baseline, and was not called out by the line judge.
But chair umpire Anna Voevodina overruled and called it out, prompting a “what’s going on here?” from Nicolescu.
“It was obviously in, and everybody saw it,” Pe’er said afterwards. “But there’s nothing you can do about that.”