Canadian Leylah Annie Fernandez prevails in opener at Abu Dhabi Open

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Canada's Leylah Annie Fernandez won her opening match of the year as the women's tennis season began on Wednesday at the Abu Dhabi Open.

The 88th-ranked Fernandez, from Laval, Que., beat No. 96 Jasmine Paolini of Italy 6-4, 6-2.

The 18-year-old Fernandez won more than 50 per cent of points on Paolini's first serve. She converted on five of eight break points.

Fernandez will face the winner of a match between No. 11 seed Jennifer Brady of the U.S., and Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia in the second round.

Carol Zhao of Richmond Hill, Ont., lost in the second and final round of qualifying, falling 7-6 (7), 6-1 to Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic.

In doubles, Toronto's Sharon Fichman and Giuliana Olmos of Mexico beat Kaitlyn Christian and Lyudmyla Kichenok of Ukraine 6-2, 6-4 in the first round.

Elsewhere, Daria Kasatkina and Maria Sakkari won their opening matches.

The WTA set up the Abu Dhabi tournament last month to give players more time to prepare for the Australian Open, which was postponed from its usual January dates to mid-February amid the coronavirus pandemic. It will be the only warm-up tournament outside Melbourne.

After the event in Abu Dhabi, players will either head to Australia on charter flights before entering quarantine, or travel the short distance to Dubai to play Australian Open qualifying.

Kasatkina was the first winner of the new season, beating Wang Qiang 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 after trailing 2-0 in the deciding set. It was the Russian’s first match since October, and Wang’s first since March.

“The first match after a long stop is never easy,” Kasatkina said. “I was not that nervous but I felt my stomach a little bit.”

Kasatkina added she didn’t mind spending time alone, making her better placed than most to adapt to quarantine measures ahead of the Australian Open.

“For many of the players, it’s difficult with the protocols and everything,” Kasatkina said. “I’m OK to sit a long time in the room.”

Sakkari, seeded ninth, faced four break points but saved them all in a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Anastasia Potapova.

Also, Veronika Kudermetova beat 10th-seeded Anett Kontaveit 7-5, 6-1, and Yulia Putintseva defeated Martina Trevisan 6-3, 6-3.

— With files from The Associated Press

The Canadian Press