Doha | Swiatek makes 3rd Qatari final, where she meets Rybakina

Fans had to make do with just one semi-final at the WTA 1000 Qatar TotalEngeries Open in Doha on Friday after Karolina Pliskova pulled out with a lower back injury, sending Iga Swiatek into the final, and leaving Elena Rybakina to defeat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets to meet her for the trophy match on Saturday.

For me, the most important is try to recover physically, because with Iga, it's a lot about the physics, of course. She's making you work for every point, and of course I need to stay aggressive and play my game, but we see what can I do tomorrow. Elena Rybakina

Pliskova, a former World No 1 and title holder in Doha, had won her last 9 matches and arrived in Doha having clinched the title in Cluj Napoca last Sunday, but the strain of match play and rushed travel finally took its toll on the Czech.

“Sorry for the tournament that I had to withdraw, but, unfortunately, I had too many matches in last couple of days, and my body just didn’t react well, especially after last night having a tough match against Naomi [Osaka],” Pliskova said in a statement. “I felt like I was pushing it a little bit over limit, and then I felt very big pain in my lower back, so I’m not able to compete anymore.”

The walkover is not counted towards Swiatek’s official win-loss record against Pliskova, or otherwise, nor does it end Pliskova’s unbeaten streak.

On X, Swiatek issued a short statement: “I’m happy to be in another final here in Doha but I wish we could play tonight and entertain you guys. Hope you’ll get well soon @KaPliskova. Congrats to you and your team on your great two weeks.”

Pliskova later posted on social media: “Unfortunately my body couldn’t compete today in semi-finals. The schedule of last two weeks was too difficult to recover from all these tough matches. I have an MRI scan tomorrow. Hope to be back on court soon. Thank you for all the support I got last weeks.”

As a result, Swiatek has reached her third consecutive Doha final, becoming the first player since Serena Williams to do so at a single hard-court tournament, and, there, the 22-year-old Pole will take on Rybakina in defence of her title.

It is a tough challenge for the World No 1 as Rybakina has won their last 3 matches, all of them in 2023.

Their two hard-court matches both went Rybakina’s way in straight sets, the first at the Australian Open and the other at the BNP Paribas Open, where the Kazakh went on to win the title.

Swiatek, though, has enjoyed a stabilising week in Doha after falling in the 3rd-round in Melbourne to the young and talented Czech, Linda Noskova, easing into the final here without dropping a set.

Both Swiatek and Rybakina lead the tour in the most WTA 1000 finals reached since 2023.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova made a late charge against Elena Rybakina but lost in straight sets in Doha on Friday

© Karim Jaafar/AFP via Getty Images

Rybakina booked her place in the Doha final after defeating Russia’s Pavlyuchenkova in the Last 4 with a 6-2 6-4 win.

Pavlyuchenkova, the 2021 French Open finalist, is enjoying a resurgence after missing much of 2022 with a knee injury, and she took out compatriot Daria Kasatkina, the reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova from the Czech Republic, and former Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins from the USA on her way to the final.

Rybakina, though, continued her near-perfect start to 2024, winning her 15th match to reach her third final of the season after holding off a late surge to clinch the win in 89 minutes.

Apart from a surprising 2nd-round exit from the Australian Open in January, Rybakina has looked like the player to beat, having taken the titles at the Brisbane International and the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open.

The No 3 seed carries an 8-match winning streak from the latter into the championship match against Swiatek, and had dropped just one set en route to her meeting with Pavlyuchenkova, who was contesting her first hard-court WTA 1000 semi-final since the 2010 Cincinnati Open.

The Russian, who showed flashes of her top from last spring in Paris, where she reached the quarter-finals with a protected ranking, is now projected to return to the Top 30 after this week.

Rybakina, though, presented an entirely different challenge with her relentless hitting and high-octane serve, both of which helped her roll through the opening set with 2 breaks of serve and 12 winners to 7.

The Russian-born Kazakh stayed on course early in the second, breaking serve on a missed backhand from Pavlyuchenkova.

She saved 6 break points in a marathon 4th game, holding with a well-struck backhand and riding the momentum into an insurance break that put her on the brink of the final.

Serving for the match, Rybakina was forced to fend off a late fight-back from the 32-year old, who earned her first break of the evening and clawed to within a point of levelling proceedings.

The Russian won 3 straight games from 1-5 down, and even held a break point to level at 5-5, but the Kazakh staved it off with a hefty crosscourt forehand, and, moments later, she sealed the win with her 3rd ace of the day.

World No 4 Elena Rybakina advanced to her 3rd final of the year in Doha where she will meet top-seeded Iga Swiatek on Saturday

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Swiatek and Rybakina split 2 junior meetings in 2016 and 2017, and have played each other 4 times at pro level, with Rybakina leading 3-1.

The Pole took their first meeting 7-6(5) 6-2 in the 2021 Ostrava quarter-finals, but Rybakina announced herself as one of Swiatek’s greatest threats with her trio of wins in 2023.

They have not played since the Rome quarter-finals last May, which Rybakina took after Swiatek retired at 2-2 in the 3rd set due to a thigh injury.

“I think we both know each other pretty well, and of course we trying to study and analyse,” Rybakina reflected after her semi-final win. “For now it was going my way, but, as I said, she’s playing really good. I think she’s a little bit fresher than me, that’s for sure, but for me it was already a very positive two weeks, so I try to push myself tomorrow and see how it’s gonna go.

“For me, the most important is try to recover physically, because with Iga, it’s a lot about the physics, of course. She’s making you work for every point, and of course I need to stay aggressive and play my game, but we see what can I do tomorrow.”

In 2022, Swiatek lifted her first Doha trophy after destroying Anett Kontaveit from Estonia, 6-2 6-0, in the final, and followed this up last year by successfully defending her title after beating Jessica Pegula from the USA, 6-3 6-0.

The surface in Doha is considered slow by hard court standards, which suits Swiatek’s skill set splendidly as all 3 of the events she has won more than once, Paris, Rome and Stuttgart, are played on clay, while the other is Doha.

“It is a challenge,” Swiatek told reporters. “She’s a great player, really solid. I mean, what can I say?”



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