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Champion Svitolina seals return to Dubai semi-finals

© AFP | Elina Svitolina is chasing a second title of the year after last month's victory in Brisbane

DUBAI (AFP) - 

Elina Svitolina edged closer to defending the second title of her career as the Ukrainian held off Japan's Naomi Osaka 6-2, 6-4 on Thursday for a semi-final place at the Dubai Championships.

Top-seeded holder Svitolina also ended a run of two 2016 losses to Osaka, ranked 48th, who beat eighth seed Kristina Mladenovic in the first round at the Aviation Club.

Osaka was the first Japanese quarter-finalist at the event since 2004.

"I had a couple of tough matches against her. I had to be ready for her to come back," Svitolina said. "I had to be ready for her to raise her level."

Svitolina, looking for her 11th career WTA trophy, was coming off an opening challenge less than 24 hours earlier when she beat Chinese lucky loser Wang Qiang.

The world number four took commanding control of the opening set against Osaka, stamping her authority on the session with a 5-0 lead.

After claiming the first set, Svitolina faded slightly, with Osaka breaking in the second game and reaching a 4-1 lead before slowly being reeled in.

Svitolina broke back for 3-4, added an insurance break for 5-4 and closed out the win on a net cord in her favour on first match point.

"Definitely I'm happy the way I've been handling the pressure and tough moments," she said.

"I had two good matches. I cannot say it was amazing tennis, but when I needed to I was stepping up and playing well.

"I just stayed in the moment, I was fighting, waiting for my opportunity, trying to earn opportunities.

"This was pretty much it - she gave me a chance and I took it. This was the key."

© 2018 AFP