Jie Zheng of China returns the ball to Russia's Ekaterina Bychkova during the first day of Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)The Associated Press
Sloane Stephens from the U.S. returns the ball to Sorana Cirstea of Romania during the first day of Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Kaveh Kashani)The Associated Press
Karla Zakopalova of Czech Republic returns the ball to Marion Bartoli of France during the first day of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)The Associated Press
Marion Bartoli of France returns the ball to Karla Zakopalova of Czech Republic during the first day of Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)The Associated Press
Sorana Cirstea of Romania returns the ball to Sloane Stephens from U.S. during the first day of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Kaveh Kashani)The Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Sloane Stephens lost in the first round of the Dubai Championship on Monday, the latest setback for the rising American star who reached the Australian Open semifinals.
Stephens, a career-high 16th in the world rankings since knocking out Serena Williams in Melbourne, lost to Sorana Cirstea of Romania 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.
"It was a rough day, and I think she obviously played some good tennis," Stephens said. "Every match isn't going to go the way you want it, and obviously I got a little frustrated. Things happen, but, I mean, no need to dwell on it."
Eleventh-ranked Marion Bartoli also advanced, rallying from a set down to beat Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. She was joined by former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, who overcame a sore right shoulder to beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia 6-3, 7-6 (5).
Last week, the 19-year-old Stephens lost to Zakopalova in the third round of the Qatar Open after wasting two match points. She smashed her racket afterward.
Monday's match was much the same. Stephens led 5-4 when the 30th-ranked Cirstea hit two double-faults, but the Romanian broke back. Stephens broke a second time and won the set.
More poor serving from Cirstea allowed Stephens to get the early break in the second, but then the Romanian settled down, breaking an increasingly frustrated Stephens twice to win the set. Stephens let out a scream after a missed shot and was warned by the chair umpire for racket abuse when she slammed her racket down after hitting a forehand wide and falling behind 5-3.
Cirstea broke Stephens three times in the third to go up 5-2 and finished when the American hit a weak return and then a backhand volley long.
Cirstea, who lost to Caroline Wozniacki in the second round of the Qatar Open, said she was giving away too many points off her serve.
She had 10 double-faults in the first two sets but only two in the decider. She also won all three of her break points and saved seven of 11.
"I started the second quite positive and I knew I had to be just a little more careful at the key points if I would turn it around," Cirstea said.
After beating an injured Williams at the Australian Open, Stephens was being billed as the future of American tennis, even though she hasn't won a professional tournament.
"The first week at home was really tough. Everyone was like, 'Oh, my God, I want to see you,'" Stephens said last week in Doha. "Of course I had people tweeting me and stuff. And I wanted to make time for my friends and see like the people who I was supposed to see."
Some of her recent woes can be blamed on health problems.
She pulled out of the Fed Cup against Italy this month after aggravating an abdominal muscle injury and getting a stomach virus.
Still, Stephens said little has changed from Australia and she hasn't let all the hype get the best of her.
"Obviously it's really tough week in and week out playing perfect tennis and just really being able to execute," Stephens said. "Some days you're going to be on the court and it's not just going to turn out the way you want. Like today, I didn't play my best tennis, and last week I didn't play my best tennis, but you just kind of got to move on."
Ivanovic appeared to be cruising toward victory after jumping to a 4-0 lead in the second set, but then began struggling with her serve, allowing the Russian to break back twice and force the tiebreaker. Pavlyuchenkova saved one match point but then hit a forehand long on the second, prompting Ivanovic to let out a screech of relief.
"It was very tough. It was kind of getting difficult," Ivanovic said. "She really started striking the ball a lot deeper and harder when she had her back against the wall sort of toward the end of the second set."
AP Sports Writer Melissa Murphy in New York contributed to this report.