Absolute Battle Goes To Muguruza In Doha

Garbiñe Muguruza (photo: @samer_alrejjal/Qatar Total Open)

DOHA/WASHINGTON, March 3, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

On a mostly clear, warm (21º C) late-winter evening in Doha, along the Persian Gulf, a championship-calibre match between two Top 20 stars broke out at on Center Court of the Khalifa International Tennis & Squash Complex at the WTA 500 Qatar Total Open.

Under any other circumstances, a tussle between World No. 8 and defending champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and World No. 16 Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain easily could have taken place in a title final. However, on this Wednesday in the capital city of Qatar, with a field that included 10 of the WTA’s Top 20 players, this was merely one of eight second-round matches on day filled with star power. But, oh what an absolutely glorious battle it turned out to be. There were 229 total points produced (117 won by Muguruza, 102 by Sabalenka), 76 total winners hit (41 by Sabalenka, 35 by Muguruza) and 11 breaks of serve achieved (seven by Muguruza, four by Sabalenka).

As it happened, the unseeded Muguruza parlayed a sensational first set, in which she jumped out to a 4-0 lead, with a strong finish – winning 14 of the final 15 points of the match – to beat the third seed Sabalenka, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3, in two hours and 26 minutes. The victory advanced the Spaniard into the quarterfinal round. It was the tournament’s first three-set match, and the victory for Muguruza avenged a loss to Sabalenka in their only previous head-to-head meeting, in Beijing back in 2018.

“I’m very motivated to play top players and I feel like everybody works hard,” said Muguruza, whose win-loss record this season improved to 11-3. “I’m fighting hard for trophies, to play well in big tournaments, in good tournaments. Today, I was facing a top player and I knew I had to go out there with a big fighting spirit, and strong to be able to win against a tough opponent.”

Next, Muguruza will face Maria Sakkari of Greece. The 23rd-ranked Greek rising star beat No. 19 Madison Keys of the United States, 6-2, 6-2, in 65 minutes, by winning 76 percent (34 of 45) of her service points while converting four of nine break-point opportunities. Sakkari (8-3) has strung together back-to-back straight-set wins following a first-round loss to Kristina Mladenovic at last month’s Australian Open.

Wednesday’s Qatar Total Open results

Thursday’s Qatar Total Open order of play

Around the Qatar Total Open

• For the second straight match, unseeded Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, ranked 24th, was first on and first off court, needing just 55 minutes to reach the quarterfinal round following her 6-1, 6-4 win against No. 26 Angelique Kerber of Germany. It was Kontaveit’s second straight win in under an hour following her 6-1, 6-2 first-round victory over Jennifer Brady. In her first two matches, Kontaveit has dropped just eight games. Meanwhile, Kerber’s win-loss record fell to 3-3, having lost two of her last three, all in straight sets.

Kontaveit hit six aces, won 77 percent (24 of 31) of her first-serve points and broke Kerber four times. She outpointed her opponent 60-41 and improved her head-to-head with the German to 4-1.

“I don’t think you really think about or expect if it’s going to be a fast match or a long match,” Kontaveit told Tennis TourTalk. “But I feel like I’m playing good tennis.

I was happy with the way I played today and happy with the way I served out the match, as well.”

Like a year ago, Kontaveit is off to a good start to this season as reflected by her 7-2 win-loss record. “I think I have put in good work in the offseason, and I feel like I have been playing confidently and positively this week,” she said. “I think, you know, it’s been working out these two matches. …

“I feel confident with the way I have been playing, and of course, I want to do well and every time I step in the court I want to win.”

Next, Kontaveit will face No. 4 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, who was sharp in her 6-1, 6-3 victory over No. 41 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova from Russia, hitting 31 winners. The World No. 10 Kvitova, in her first competition since since losing in the second round of the Australian Open, won 74 percent of her first serves, dropped serve just once and broke Pavlychenkova five times en route to improving her win-loss record to 3-2.

“Definitely, I love to play in Qatar,” said Kvitova, who won Doha in 2018. “This is only of my favorite places to play and to be. … I think it was really something nice to be back on the court and, you know, have a few spectators, as well. I think I played [a] pretty good game today, and I hope it helped me for the future, for sure.”

• No. 8 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who accepted a wild card into the main draw, advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 6-2 win over 56th-ranked qualifier Laura Siegemund of Germany in one hour and 51 minutes. She took advantage of six breaks of her opponent’s serve while winning 57 percent (41 of 72) of her returns. The 14th-ranked Azarenka improved to 1-1 lifetime against Siegemund, who is 0-3 this season against Top 20 competition.

Next, Azarenka faces No. 1 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, who eased past 83rd-ranked lucky loser Misaki Doi from Japan, 6-1, 6-2, in one hour, hitting a solid forehand winner on her second match-point try. The World No. 5 Svitolina benefited from five breaks of Doi’s serve while outpointing her opponent 59-35.

• Unseeded Jessica Pegula of the United States reached her second straight quarterfinal following her 6-2, 7-5 victory over Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in 72 minutes. Match point was suspenseful after the 44th-ranked Pegula clipped the line with her third ace of the match. Ostapenko’s challenge was upheld and Pegula won the game, the set and the match. The American converted five of seven break points, including in the 11th game of the final set, which she consolidated to move on.

Next, Pegula will face No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, who escaped with a 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 win over No. 31 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia in two hours and five minutes that finished well after midnight in Doha. The victory was Pliskova’s second in three career head-to-head matches with Jabeur, who defeated the Czech in Doha last year – also in the second round – for her fourth career Top 10 win. Each of their three meetings have gone the distance.

In their latest battle, Pliskova hit 25 winners to 15 unforced errors and held off Jabeur in the final set after going ahead 5-2 in the decider. The unseeded Tunisian finished with 40 winners against 25 unforced errors. There were nine breaks of service between the two competitors and Pliskova outpointed her opponent 110-98 to reach her first hard-court quarterfinal since Dubai last year.

• Doubles No. 1 seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, both from the Czech Republic, advanced to the semifinals with a comeback 4-6, 6-4, 13-11 win over the Dutch team of Kiki Bertens and Lesley Pattinama Kerhove, as did No. 2 seeds Nicole Melichar of the United States and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands, who beat the U.S. pair of Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jessica Pegula, 6-1, 6-1.

Also, reaching the semifinals: Monica Niculescu of Romania and Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia advanced over wild cards Laura Siegemund of Germany and Elena Vesnina of Russia, 6-3, 6-4; and Andreja Klepac of Slovenia and Sania Mirza of India  beat the No. 4 seeds Anna Blinkova of Russia and Gaby Dabrowski of Canada, 6-2, 6-0.

India’s Sania Mirza: Becoming a mother has made me a better person

India’s most celebrated female tennis player, Sania Mirza, 34, is playing in her first tournament of 2021 – and first in over a year. During a virtual press conference Wednesday evening, Tennis TourTalk asked Mirza, a former doubles World No. 1 who has won three Grand Slam doubles and three Grand Slam mixed doubles crowns, how starting a family has changed her outlook on being a tennis professional. She said:

“I think being a mother has made me a better person. I think that as professional athletes, maybe we are slightly self-centered. It’s all about ourselves, about our warmups, about our matches, about our food and, like, it’s all about where we want to do what we want to do. That’s something that’s been throughout all our lives basically.

“Then, you have a child and – boom – everything changes. Nothing is really about you anymore. That’s the most natural progression a sort of that happens. It’s not that you have to try to be selfless or anything. It’s just sort you become that. I guess that’s what maternal feelings are.

“For me, I think it’s made me a better person. I think that I never knew I had it in my to love someone so much that, you know, I want more for that little baby than I want for anybody else in the world, including myself.

“So, I think that a tennis match, at the end of the day, remains a tennis match. But being a mother, to me, is something that cannot be replaced. That feeling is never going to be replaced no matter how much I won or how much I will win in the future.”