On Monday, World No 1 Iga Swiatek cruised past Sorana Cirstea, Anhelina Kalinina dispatched Emma Raducanu, and Naomi Osaka got her revenge over Caroline Garcia, while Karolina Pliskova and Daria Kasatkina rushed from Romania and the UAE to play their opening round matches at the Qatar TotalEnergies Open with no time to spare and varying results.
To be honest I felt, like, I never really got into it. I think it was a combination of things. It’s like my first day match, I think, I’ve played in a year, so that’s different. Honestly, I think I need to practice training outside a bit more because it’s very different and also the light, conditions, shadows – it’s really hard to, kind of, see the ball, I found towards the end. When the tennis isn’t there, you have to at least try to fight, and I think I did that in the second set. Emma Raducanu
Swiatek delivered a masterclass under the lights against Cirstea, the World No 22, winning 6-1 6-1 in 61 minutes.
Having suffered a shock Australian Open 3rd-round loss to Linda Noskova, Swiatek began her Doha title defence impressively, effectively destroying any chance of the Romanian proffering a threat.
Although the 22-year old Pole missed out on 2 break points in the second game, she held her focus and easily won the opening set after breaking the Romanian in the 4th and 6th games.
In the second, Cirstea held her first service game before Swiatek swept up the set by taking the next 6 on the trot.
The match could have been a banana skin for the top seed, but it turned out to be a pretty one-sided affair as Swiatek did not allow Cirstea a single break point, while earning 11 break points and converting 6 times herself on the way to registering the dominant win.
“For sure I’m happy with my performance, and I feel like it was a really solid match,” Swiatek said later in her press conference. “I kind of felt like I was able to keep my focus from the beginning till the end.
“Then, you know, after every game, I was more confident and I could even, you know, relax a little bit more at the end. So I’m happy that I just played solid.”
In Melbourne, Noskova targeted Swiatek’s forehand, which gradually broke down, but against Cirstea, the Pole used her forehand to laser the corners and it worked very smoothly.
Later Swiatek admitted to reporters that she has worked on her forehand since her Australian Open loss.
“Well, I’m getting there,” she said with a smile. “No, I mean, as you could see on the match, it worked, you know. We have been working hard for it to be better.”
The Pole’s game seemingly is becoming well-rounded and more aggressive since her dominant run of 2022.
“Well, I think the biggest difference was, you know, in 2022, when I started, you know, working more on this offensive formations, it was a little bit easier for me to use them during the match, and, for sure, I felt like I have more variety and I could use it,” Swiatek explained.
“I would say it depends. I have times where I feel, yeah, like, I’m playing sometimes even too aggressively, so I’m still learning how to balance that to use all these advantages that, you know, being a great defence player and having this, you know, ability to play high topspin, and the balls that are going to push my opponent further from the baseline, and, on the other hand, being able to sometimes go forward and play more flat.
“So I feel, like, I can do both, but I feel, like, I still need to learn, you know, how to manage it the best way and pick the right solutions, and right tournaments, and right surfaces. But my coach [Thomasz Wiktorowski] is really smart, and he has a good eye, so he always tells me what will be the best option, so that’s really helpful.”
Britain’s Emma Raducanu also says she is a work in progress but, on a bright sunny Monday morning in Doha, she was delivered a bagel by Anhelina Kalinina, Ukraine’s No 4 who is ranked 30 in the world, on her way to a 6-0 7-6(6) 1st-round loss.
It turns out that Raducanu only arrived in Doha on Sunday after attending a glamorous hotel launch the night before in Dubai, which was also attended by model, Naomi Campbell and actress Vanessa Hudgens, to name a few that she was pictured with on social media.
Raducanu, who is worth an estimated £12m, second only to Swiatek according to Forbes, attended the opening of the One&Only One Za’abeel Hotel in Dubai on Saturday night, which perhaps accounted for the 48 unforced errors she made in the tricky conditions in Qatar on Monday morning.
Speaking to Sky Sports Tennis after the match, Raducanu detailed her struggles and admitted that returning back to the practice court will help her solve some of the problems she is having.
“To be honest I felt, like, I never really got into it,” she said. “I think it was a combination of things. It’s like my first day match, I think, I’ve played in a year, so that’s different.
“Honestly, I think I need to practice training outside a bit more because it’s very different and also the light, conditions, shadows – it’s really hard to, kind of, see the ball, I found towards the end.
“When the tennis isn’t there, you have to at least try to fight, and I think I did that in the second set.”
It was a valiant second set effort from Raducanu, but the Brit, who held a set point in the breaker, ultimately crumbled.
Raducanu may play Dubai next week if she is offered a wild-card, while the Brit is also considering competing at a lower level to get some wins under her belt.
“I think that I need to, kind of, schedule my tournaments a bit better, as well as just trying to get some more matches under my belt,” she said on Sky Sports Tennis. “I think that I’m just going to go home and practice and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
As for Kalinina, the Ukrainian will now play 8th seed Jelena Ostapenko in the 2nd-round, who received a bye.
Meanwhile, Naomi Osaka recorded her second win in the 5 matches that she has played since returning last month after a 15-month maternity leave, beating 15th-seeded Caroline Garcia, 7-5 6-4, and avenging her defeat the hands of the Frenchwoman in Melbourne.
Garcia won her first 11 service points to kick off the rematch, conjuring up memories of her Australian Open meeting with Osaka, where the Frenchwoman never faced a break point.
Osaka, though, finally got a look-in on Garcia’s serve, conjuring up 2 break points when she was serving for the set at 5-4 to earn the Japanese a break to level at 5-5.
The four-times Grand Slam champion was now in the ascendancy as she fended off 2 break points to reach 6-5 before powering her way to another commanding love break, winning her 4th straight game to eke out the one-set lead from 3-5 down.
Osaka earned one more break in the last game of the match, to close out the win.
Garcia had 8 more winners than Osaka in the match, but the Japanese countered with 8 fewer unforced errors, while she was also a perfect 3-for-3 on break points, while the Frenchwoman went 1-for-8.
“I feel like I’m a much better player now,” Osaka said afterwards. “In Australia, my returns weren’t as good and I don’t feel like I was as focused as I am now.”
On coming back physically after pregnancy she added: “It’s been a really tough journey. I felt like I was chasing myself in the past and it honestly wasn’t really healthy to do.
“After giving birth, I feel I trained really quickly, I’m a very big perfectionist and it’s tough when you don’t see results as quickly.
“I felt like I was driving a car that wasn’t mine. So my body didn’t feel like the body that I was used to.”
“It was in that journey I felt like I learned how to love myself as I am now. I got to wake up every day and see my daughter and know that I was strong enough for her to come into this world.”
Osaka’s next assignment on her come-back trail is a 2nd-round date with Petra Martic of Croatia, who edged past Arantxa Rus from the Netherlands, 7-5 3-6 7-7(5).
Later, after a gruelling overnight journey, Karolina Pliskova emerged victorious in her 1st-round match against Anna Kalinskaya, overcoming the Russian wild-card, 2-6 7-6(3) 6-4, to move into the 2nd-round in Qatar where she will go up against another Russian, Anastasia Potapova, a 6-4 6-4 winner over Italy’s Martina Trevisan, a lucky loser who replaced No 9 seed Barbora Krejcikova from the Czech Republic.
Pliskova won the Transylvania Open title in Cluj-Napoca on Sunday, and then travelled 3,400 kms in an 8-hour overnight intercontinental flight from Romania to Doha to play at the Qatar Open.
Her husband Michal Hrdlicka recently criticised the demanding scheduling of the WTA tour as the former World No 1 barely made it to Doha in time.
“She caught the flight from Cluj via Istanbul to Doha at the last minute,” he posted on X. “If the final in Romania had been played just a little longer, she would not have reached Qatar at all.
“This is how she arrived at the hotel at 8 in the morning, slept for 4 hours, had a quick lunch, 14:30 play-off and a match. Extremely challenging conditions,” he added
Pliskova, meanwhile, wrote on Instagram: “Still alive!” adding a laughing emoji.
Abu Dhabi Open finalist Daria Kasatkina, and semi-finalists Beatriz Haddad Maia and Liudmila Samsonova, also bore the brunt of the scheduling, but lost their opening matches at the Qatar Open.
Haddad Maia, the 10th seed from Brazil, tamely lost to China’s Wang Xinyu, 6-1 6-3, while Kasatkina, the 11th seed from Russia, fell to her compatriot, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-2 7-6(2), and 12th-seeded Samsonova, also Russian, was edged out by Canadian Leylah Fernandez, 7-5 7-6(4).