Sabalenka Powers Her Way To Doha Title

DOHA, March 1, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

As Petra Kvitova and Aryna Sabalenka squared off in their WTA Premier 5 title match at the Qatar Total Open in Doha Saturday evening, the 11th-ranked Czech star arrived on Centre Court at the Khalifa International Tennis & Squash Complex with a goal of winning her second career title in the Qatar capital city, known for its futuristic skyscrapers and ultramodern architecture.

However, the ninth-seeded Sabalenka, eight years Kvitova’s junior, had plans of her own. In just 74 minutes, the 21-year-old from Belarus, whose shrieking intensity and powerful ground strokes have proved to be a winning combo, won her first Qatar Total Open title in her first Doha entry. Her 6-3, 6-3 triumph over the eighth-seeded Kvitova was her third championship win in six months as well as her second Premier 5 crown and sixth WTA title overall.

“I couldn’t really expect the title for the first time in Doha,” said Sabalenka, quoted by the WTA Tour website. The victory improved the No. 13 Belarusian‘s record to 12-5 in all competitions this year (11-4 WTA, 1-1 Fed Cup). “I’m really happy, it feels so special for me. I was really focused on each point, and played every point like the last point and like I’m actually losing.

“I respect (Kvitova), I knew she is a big fighter. I know she will bring everything she has on this final. I tried to focus on each point because I knew that she will try to come back in the game and she will try to beat me.”

Kvitova, who hasn’t won a championship since the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart last April, won just 47 percent (17 of 36) of her first-serve points. Her service was broken three times by Sabalenka and she was 0-for-5 in break-point conversions. It was a startling contrast to her performance a day earlier in the semifinals when she mastered World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. The 29-year-old Czech’s last hard court title came at the beginning of the 2019 season in Sydney. Now, she will have to wait until the Spring Swing through the Southern California desert and the Florida palm beaches, at Indian Wells and Miami, later this month to get a crack at another hard court title.

Sabalenka drops just one set all week

Earlier this week, Sabalenka suggested that she tries to bring everything she has to every match “and just hoping that the next day will be better than the day today.” During her Doha run, she dropped just one set and won her last five sets en route to lifting the trophy.

After breaking Kvitova at love to go ahead 3-1, Sabalenka closed out the 29-minute first set with her second service ace as she won 81 percent (17 of 21) of her first-serve points. Then, on serve in the third game of the second set, Sabalenka saved five break points during a marathon-like 22-point game. Finally, she held serve with her fourth ace. It proved to be a turning point in the match because, soon, Sabalenka broke Kvitova to go ahead 4-3. Then, after holding her own serve, she won the Doha title on her fourth match-point opportunity.

Sabalenka, who will move up to No. 11 in the new rankings, fired seven aces and hit 21 winners while committing just 15 unforced errors. She outpointed Kvitova 69-49. With her success in Doha, coupled with winning her first Premier 5 title last fall in Wuhan, the Belarusian now has won 11 straight Premier 5-level matches. The loss broke Kvitova’s 10-match Doha winning streak and it leveled the career head-to-head between her and Sabalenka at two each.

Kvitova, who hit just 12 winners to 19 unforced errors, was disappointed by her loss but gave props to the new Doha champion. She suggested during her post-match comments that Sabalenka didn’t give her anything to play her game. “Aryna played amazing match,” she said, quoted by the WTA Tour website. “For sure, she didn’t give me anything for free.“

On this given night – and in this given final – Sabalenka didn’t miss when it mattered most.

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