DOHA/WASHINGTON, March 1, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)
Five former Grand Slam champions were featured during Monday’s opening day of the WTA 500 Qatar Total Open in Doha. There was plenty of marquee value to start the new month in the Middle East – and some intriguing first-round matches that included past major champions Garbiñe Muguruza, Angelique Kerber, Jelena Ostapenko, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Victoria Azarenka.
However, it was the first match of the day on Center Court at the Khalifa International Tennis & Squash Complex, between 2021 Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady, ranked 24th, and No. 22 Anett Kontaveit, that set the tone for the rest of the day. The Estonian needed just 53 minutes to beat Brady, 6-1, 6-2, by controlling the baseline. The victory moved Kontaveit into the second round against No. 26 Kerber from Germany, who eased past 180th-ranked Turkish wild card Cagla Buyukakcay of Turkey, 6-4, 6-2.
A fine day’s work from Anett Kontaveit
— wta (@WTA) March 1, 2021
Kontaveit, who arrived in Doha fresh from a 10-day break at home in Tallinn following her third-round exit from the Australian Open, gave a sharp performance against Brady. She hit 17 winners to just nine unforced errors and converted four of her seven break-point opportunities while not facing any break points on her own serve. Meanwhile, Brady struggled with her first serve, placing just 58 percent of them in play and winning only 50 percent (14 of 28) of her first-serve points She finished with 14 winners while committing 25 unforced errors and just wasn’t able to make a quick turnaround from Melbourne to Doha.
“I didn’t really know what to expect in this match today,” Kontaveit said to reporters following her sixth win of the 2021 season. “You know, I think the score might make it seem a little easier than it was. It was still competitive, especially in the second set. … I’m definitely happy with my performance today … maybe a little unexpected.”
— Jimmie48 Photography (@JJlovesTennis) March 1, 2021
Kontaveit wasted little time – just 25 minutes in the first set – in dominating Brady from the outset, who was playing in her first match since losing the Melbourne final to Japan’s Naomi Osaka nine days ago. Kontaveit won the opening set after she broke the American twice. Her ability to mix up her returns caused fits for Brady, who committed an uncharacteristic nine unforced errors.
It didn’t get much better for the American in the second set after Kontaveit went ahead by a double break at 5-2, then served out the win. She improved to 2-0 lifetime against Brady following her 2018 Wimbledon triumph. The victory was Kontaveit’s first against a Top 20 opponent since last summer, when she beat then-No. 15 Petra Martic of Croatia in the semifinals on clay at Palermo following the resumption of the WTA tour.
“I think every win gives [me] a little bit of confidence,” Kontaveit said. “That [win] definitely gave me some confidence. I’m ready for the next matches.
“Really, there is no easy matches here. The draw is small and everyone is tough. It’s going to be tough, but I feel ready for the challenge.
“I feel quite good in my game and I feel like I’m playing well So, I feel like I can take on anyone.”
Around the Qatar Total Open
• Two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, unseeded this week in Doha despite being World No. 14, advanced to play No. 3 seed Aryna Sabalenka (ranked 7th) from Belarus, following her 6-2, 7-6 (4) win over No. 36 Veronika Kudermetova of Russia.
“In these small tournaments where there is a small draw and everybody wants to play, you have to be always high [in the] rankings to avoid facing right away tough opponents,” Muguruza told Tennis TourTalk.
“I feel like everybody’s tough [here]. I mean, today in my match, Veronika was a very tough opponent and she’s not seeded either.
“Just happy with this win. We played a year ago, and I remember it was a tough match.” Muguruza defeated Kudermetova, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, in the second round at Dubai in February 2020. “Yeah, happy to have closed it in two sets [today].”
Up and running in Doha!
— wta (@WTA) March 1, 2021
• Former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia bageled World No. 9 Kiki Bertens in the Dutchwoman’s first match since undergoing Achilles surgery following last year’s Roland Garros, and won 6-0, 6-2 in 55 minutes. Ostapenko’s 21st winner broke Bertens for the fifth time in the sixth game of the second set and she went on to beat the No. 5 seed and advance against either No. 61 Jessica Pegula of the United States or No. 34 Wang Qiang from China. Ostapenko finished with 26 winners and outpointed Bertens 59-34.
— wta (@WTA) March 1, 2021
After the match, Bertens was asked how the surgery might have affected her on court. She said: “I think that the foot was fine today, so I think that didn’t affect me at all. But of course, the match, I didn’t have much match rhythm getting into this.
“I think Jelena was playing really well today. I think she had a great performance. Of course, mine was not good, but I think it was more her than me today.”
The consolation for Bertens is she still has at least one more match remaining in Doha. Bertens is entered in the doubles draw with fellow Dutchwoman Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove. “Then, I prepare as good as I can and go back to the practice courts, get the hours in and prepare as good as I can for Dubai next week.”
— wta (@WTA) March 1, 2021
• In their 10th career head-to-head battle – but first in five years – two-time Doha champion (2012-13) Victoria Azarenka of Belarus ranked 13th, advanced over Russia’s No. 37 Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-2, 6-3, finally winning on her sixth match point opportunity in one hour and 42 minutes. Azarenka saved seven of nine break points and outpointed Kuznetsova 78-61.
— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) March 1, 2021
• No. 23 Maria Sakkari of Greece reached the second round by defeating 131st-ranked Egyptian wild card Mayar Sherif, 6-0, 6-3, in 61 minutes. Sakkari fired five aces and broke Sherif’s serve five times in seven opportunities to advance against either Swiss No. 6 seed Belinda Bencic or No. 19 Madison Keys of the United States. It was just the third Top 50 player Sherif had faced.
• No. 32 Amanda Anisimova of the United States withdrew due to an ankle injury and was replaced in the main draw by 83rd-ranked Japanese lucky loser Misaki Doi, who lost in the final round of qualifying to Jessica Pegula.
• Doubles No. 1 seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, both from the Czech Republic defeated China’s Zheng Saisai and Zhu Lin, 5-7, 6-3, 10-3 to advance to the quarterfinals. They’re joined by Slovenia’s Andreja Klepac and Sania Mirza of India, who defeated Ukrainian sisters Liudmyla and Nadiia Kichenok, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 10-5.
— Qatar Tennis Federation (@QatarTennis) March 1, 2021
Qualifiers advance into main draw
Qualifiers Jessica Pegula, Laura Siegemund, Kristyna Pliskova and Anna Blinkova advanced after winning three rounds of qualifying matches into the main draw. Pegula beat Misaki Doi, 6-2, 6-2; Siegemund advanced over Lesia Tsurenko, 7-6 (4), 6-4; Pliskova beat Cristina Bucsa, 6-2, 6-2 and Blinkova defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 6-2, 6-3.
In their first-round matches, Pegula faces Wang Qiang, Siegemund plays Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina, Pliskova opposes Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia and Blinkova takes on Ons Jabeur from Tunisia.
What they are saying
• Anett Kontaveit on going through the strict quarantine in Melbourne, in which she was not allowed outside to practice during her first two weeks in Australia: “It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t something we have done before. It was just a new situation.
“I did feel like once we started playing, we were playing quite a lot and, in the end, I felt like I didn’t have the same energy as I probably would after, I don’t know, training for two weeks, for an example.
“It wasn’t easy, but you know, I got to go home after Australia and I had almost 10 days at home. I felt like it was exactly what I needed to get ready again, prepare a little bit, practice, and sort of get my fitness back as much as I could.”
• Defending champion Aryna Sabalenka was asked if there’s pressure being the defending champion in Doha: “Well, I don’t feel any different. I came here for some great matches, for the great fight.
“Yeah, I’m the defending champion but still I feel there is nothing to lose. … I’ll just go for it and do everything I can. So, it’s not a big difference compared to last year.”
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• World No. 5 Elina Svitolina on being top seed in Doha and if it’s means preparing any differently: “Well, for sure, it’s nice to be a first seed, but you have to focus one match at a time. I’m No. 5 in the world, so it’s quite expected, you know, in some tournaments that I’m a top seed. Defintely gives me this extra motivation to play well here.
“I always like to play here in Doha. This year is a bit different because I think the surface is a bit different. They made it for the quallies for the Australian Open, so it’s different but I’m happy to be here.”
• World No. 6 Karolina Pliskova on her goal setting: “The goal for me now is just to play as many tournaments or as many matches as I can, because I really feel like I’m missing that tournament rhythm.
“Although I played some matches, still I don’t think I’m close to how I want to play. But other than that, I think in the practices everything is going quite well.
“My team is great, so everything is working. But I just feel I’m maybe missing a little bit more matches and the tournament mode or the rhythm, so I don’t feel like I’m playing the best.
“But I hope it’s gonna come with me playing maybe more weeks, more tournaments, and having more matches.”