Doha | Swiatek and Ostapenko upset Sabalenka and Muguruza

Both Aryna Sabalenka and Garbiñe Muguruza were upset in the quarter-finals at the Qatar TotalEnergies Open in Doha on Thursday, dispatched by Iga Swiatek and Jelena Ostapenko respectively, while Anett Kontaveit and Maria Sakkari saw off Coco Gauff and Ons Jabeur, all in tight straight sets.

This match is going to give me a lot of confidence. I'm very happy that, tactically, I did a great job, and my mental game was also on point. That's the most important thing for me, because from the beginning I wanted to be aggressive, and to be focusing on myself, and on my game. Iga Świątek

In the last match of the day, Swiatek, the No 7 seed from Poland, stormed into the semi-finals with an emphatic 6-2 6-3 victory over Sabalenka, the Belarusian World No 2 and top seed in Qatar, taking an hour 14 minutes to advance.

“I was waiting for this match, was quite stressful, as it was my first quarter-final on a hard court at a tournament like this,” Swiatek said. “I just wanted to stay focused as I did in the last few rounds here.

“I knew Aryna was going to play strong, so I am, really, [pleased] that my mental game was to the point,” the 21-year-old added.

Sabalenka won their only prior encounter in group play at the WTA Finals last season but, this time round, it was Swiatek who was the dominant force in levelling their head-to-head, while her record against Top 2 opponents in her career now stands at 2-5.

With the defeat, Sabalenka, the 2020 Doha champion, will drop from the World No 2 position, a spot she has held since 23 August last year.

Swiatek, the 2020 Roland Garros champion, converted 7 of her 8 break points on the day, and was way more effective winning behind her first serves, taking 68 percent of those points, while the Belarusian’s success rate in this area trailed at 41 percent.

“I feel I have more variety now,” Swiatek said. “Earlier, when I played experienced players, I always could feel they have [more].

“From the beginning of the season, I feel I have some of these [weapons], as well. I can just choose the proper one for the right match.”

Six of the first 7 games went to the returner, which put Swiatek at a distinct advantage as the lone hold in the 2nd game of that run contributed to her 5-2 lead.

Another critical hold followed in the next game, giving Swiatek the opening set and, although Sabalenka grabbed an early break to go up 3-0 in the second, the Pole used her powerful forehand to finish off the rallies, methodically chipping away at that lead, and then reeled off 6 games in a row to pick up the straight-set win.

“This match is going to give me a lot of confidence,” Swiatek said in her post-match press conference. “I’m very happy that, tactically, I did a great job, and my mental game was also on point.

“That’s the most important thing for me, because from the beginning I wanted to be aggressive, and to be focusing on myself, and on my game.”


Maria Sakkari, who went to hospital at the start of the week, saw off Coco Gauff to set up a semi-final meeting with Iga Swiatek on Friday

© Karim Jaafar/AFP via Getty Images

Swiatek will take on Maria Sakkari, the No 6 from Greece, for a spot in the final on Friday.

They have met 3 times before, all in 2021, and Sakkari emerged the winner every time, including in the Roland Garros quarter-finals last year when the Greek ended Swiatek’s title defence.

On Thursday, in the first match of the day, Sakkari was a 6-3 6-3 winner over American teenager Coco Gauff, the No 6 seed, to reach Doha semi-final.

She revealed she was in the hospital just hours before her first round match for a check-up on stomach pain.

“This tournament did not start the way I wanted,” Sakkari said on the WTA website. “I was in the hospital all Monday morning.

“I had a very sharp pain in my lower stomach. I just didn’t know if I was going to be able to play this tournament, because I was very, very bad, like I was dying.

“Three hours before the match, I just left the hospital and [said], OK, I’ll go try and play, and see what I can do…

“Three days later, I’m in the semi-final, which gave me, actually, a lot of confidence, because it shows how much mental strength I have and, of course, physical strength, as well.

“I’m good [now]. Not 100%, I still get aches and pains on my stomach, but I’m a lot better. You can tell that I’m in good shape. With the way I played today and yesterday, I’m feeling good again.”

Sakkari maintained her dominance over Gauff, who she beat for the 3rd time in 4 matches on the WTA Tour.

Uncharacteristically, the 17-year old was guilty of 26 unforced errors, while Sakkari fired 5 aces as she broke Gauff in the very first game, and then once more in the 9th, to seal the first set, before breaking again in games 2 and 4 ahead of closing out the win in an hour 26 minutes.

“I’m actually very happy with where my game is right now. I’m just enjoying myself, enjoying my tennis,” Sakkari said. “I think it was a very solid match today from my side.

“I had to come up with some very good tennis throughout the match because Coco is a very tough opponent.”


Anett Kontaveit beat her good friend Ons Jabeur in the quarter-finals in Doha

© Karim Jaafar/AFP via Getty Images

In the lower half of the draw, Anett Kontaveit, the No 4 seed from Estonia, and Latvia’s 15th-seeded Jelena Ostapenko will meet in the other semi-final after their straight-set wins on Thursday.

Kontaveit defeated her good friend Jabeur, the 8th seed from Tunisia, 6-4 6-1, in 1 hour 11 minutes, while Ostapenko eliminated Spain’s Muguruza, the 6th seed, 6-2 6-2.

The Estonian is on an 8-match winning streak, winning 5 titles in the past 7 months, including 2 weeks ago at St Petersburg, and she holds a 3-1 edge over Ostapenko.

Kontaveit slammed 20 winners to Jabeur’s 19, keeping her unforced error count to an impressively meagre 12 compared to Jabeur’s 28.

She was content to wait for the Tunisian to make mistakes, Jabeur’s attempts at invention often back-firing, while her 65% first-serve percentage enabled her to keep her at bay, and the Estonian faced only one break point in the match, in the 3rd game of the second set.

They had been neck-and-neck through the tense first set, and Jabeur needed to battle for 10 minutes to hold her opening service game, while she had to save 4 break points across her first two.

Kontaveit had claimed 15 out of 16 points to grasp the opener and go up 2-0 as Jabeur’s game fell apart, but the World No 10 got herself together sufficiently to arrest her slide with a battling hold for 1-3 after 6 deuces.

It was a short-lived recovery as Kontaveit charged out to a comfortable straight sets win to reach her first WTA 1000 semi-final since Miami 2019, and her 4th overall.

“I thought the level was very good,” Kontaveit said later. “I felt like she was hitting an ace, I was hitting a winner, she was hitting a good serve, I was hitting a winner.

“At times it was just kind of fun because I felt like the level was really good, and I was playing really well.

“I think I have this confidence that I can go deep every week that I’m playing, and I’m not setting these mental barriers to myself that I used to do.

“I’m very happy with being in the semi-finals, but I also feel like I can still go deeper, I can still do more.

“So I’m not too satisfied yet with this result, and I feel like if I play well or if I’m consistent, I have a chance with anyone.

“I’m really happy that I’m bringing a good level of tennis consistently every tournament. I think that’s something that I’m just most pleased with.”


Jelena Ostapenko demolished Garbiñe Muguruza to reach a semi-final contest with Anett Kontaveit

© Mohamed Farag/Getty Images

Kontaveit’s next opponent, Ostapenko, dismantled Muguruza with the loss of just 4 games, the World No 13 continuing her outstanding form and effectively destroying the former World No 1’s defences.

“I knew it was going to be a tough match against her,” Ostapenko said in her post-match press conference. “But I really knew I also have to be aggressive and take time away from her, which I think I did pretty well, and I was dictating the game today.

“Of course it’s great to have so many matches winning, but the tournament is still not over.

“I hope I can keep winning here still in Doha. I’m just working on some things and getting more confident, and I think it’s going to help my game.”

The Latvian got off to a great start, taking an early 3-0 lead with a chance to go up by a double break but missed the chance before getting broken back in the 4th game, as Muguruza reduced the deficit to 3-2.

Ostapenko responded by claiming back-to-back breaks to win 3 games in a row and win the first set, and then made a strong start to the second when she broke Muguruza again early for a 3-1 lead.

The 15th seed, who won Dubai last week, failed to serve out for the match in the 7th game, but she held her focus as she earned her 6th break of the match to book a straight-set win.

The 24-year-old Latvian has now reached her 3rd semi-final of the year after making it to last-4 stages at St Petersburg and Dubai, and stretching her winning streak to 9 matches, a personal best.

“I’m really happy with the level I was playing today,” she said. “I think I was dictating the game very well and obviously I knew she’s a great player, so it was always going to be a tough match.

“I was really ready for it, ready for a battle. But I think it was a bit easier than I expected.”

About her semi-final against Konatveit on Friday, Ostapenko said: “Of course, it’s going to be a tough match, but I’m really ready for a battle and I hope you guys enjoy it.”

The former Top 5 player has 14 match-wins in total so far this season, and her ranking at No 13 this week marks the first time she is in the Top 20 since October of 2018.

Ostapenko struck a whopping 39 winners in the match, compared to just 5 from Muguruza, while her 21 unforced errors helped to keep her power game on track.

She was equally ruthless returning the Muguruza second serve, claiming 15 of those 18 points, a cool 83 percent, as she added the Spaniard to her growing list of defeated Grand Slam champions in the last 2 weeks – Sofia Kenin, Petra Kvitova, Swiatek, Simona Halep, Barbora Krejcikova and now Muguruza.



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