Doha | Swiatek swats away Azarenka to meet Pliskova, as Rybakina lines up Pavlyuchenkova in Qatar Open semi-finals

Two former Doha champions faced off against each other in the quarter-finals of the Qatar TotalEnergies Open on Thursday, and if Victoria Azarenka posed any kind of threat to Iga Swiatek, the tops seed snuffed it out with a bagel second set, while her next opponent, Karolina Pliskova, prevailed over Naomi Osaka in a battle between two former World No 1s, after Elena Rybakina, the 3rd seed, set up a Last 4 contest with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova earlier on Day 6.

Beating all these top players in this week, it’s incredible. Especially Naomi [Osaka], such a champion. We played already [in 2024] so I knew it’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be about a couple points, and taking the chances, which there were just a couple of them. Happy that I survived somehow, and didn’t have to stay for a third set, that would be difficult. Karolina Pliskova

Doha is, undeniably, a venue that Swiatek likes.

“I do, that’s true,” she said. “I was really excited to come here, I always feel like it’s a great place to just focus on playing tennis, no fuss around that is not necessary. I’m just really in the work zone and I’m really enjoying being here.”

It is just under 2 years since the World No 1 last dropped a set in the Qatari capital, and while there were moments in a tightly contested opening set when it seemed possible Azarenka might dent that impressive record, Swiatek swatted the danger away in ruthless fashion.

After a slightly shaky in the windy conditions under the lights, Swiatek cruised past  Azarenka, 6-4 6-0, in an hour and 14 minutes, keeping herself on track to defend the title she won in 2022 and 2023.

“I’m really happy. Vika’s a great champion,” Swiatek said of her 34-year-old opponent. “I feel she’s been at the top in terms of the best players I watched when I was younger.

“I’m proud I can compete on the same court and play against Victoria and win. It’s pretty crazy.”

Azarenka, a former World No 1 and two-time Australian Open champion, has also won back-to-back titles in Doha, in 2012 and 2013, and she has looked comfortable on these courts, having upset Jelena Ostapenko, the 8th seed, in the previous round, but the Belarusian ultimately broke down under the ferocious fire-power and speed of Swiatek.

The 22-year old Pole extended both her lead against Azarenka to 3-1 in their head-to-head matches, as well as her winning streak in Doha to 11 consecutive matches.

Victoria Azarenka kept things tight in the opening set but was over-powered in the second by Iga Swiatek in the Doha quarter-finals

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The first set was a tight affair, with Swiatek earning an early break to love in the opening game, and Azarenka returning the favour in next, before they both impressively held serve to 3-3 when the Belarusian, now ranked 34, came within a point of breaking the Pole for a 5-3 lead.

Swiatek coolly got herself out of that jam, then earned a break point of her own at 4-4 behind a barrage of blistering backhands, prompting Azarenka to double-fault to cede that game and put the Pole up a break, after which the top seed routinely served out the set.

“I struggled a little bit to find my rhythm in the first set, but then I kind of learned my lesson and just played in a really solid way,” said Swiatek afterwards. “I was happy with how I kept my focus in the second set, and I just went for it and didn’t look back.”

In fact, Swiatek romped away to bagel the second, reeling off 9 games in a row without facing a break point, going 5-for-6 on break points for the day, and ending the match with 17 winners to just 5 from Azarenka after just 74 minutes.

Swiatek has spoken of the need to strike a better balance between defence and attack, and on this occasion she did that perfectly, patiently constructing the points before pulling the trigger.

“I felt like I started a little bit playing too aggressively maybe, but then I found my rhythm and the proper way to play,” Swiatek told the press later. “I kept it till the end of the match. I’m happy that I could analyse during the match, and then take a lesson from that.”

Swiatek is aiming to become the first player to win a WTA tournament for three consecutive editions since Serena Williams won in Miami in 2023, 2014 and 2015.

Karolina Pliskova (L) needed two tiebreaks to get past a resurgent Naomi Osaka on Day 5 of the WTA 1000 Qatar Open

© Karim Jaafar/AFP via Getty Images

She now takes on another former World No 1 in Karolina Pliskova in Friday’s semi-final, won the Doha title in 2017, and battled past Naomi Osaka, 7-6(6) 7-6(5), in an hour and 42 minutes to extend her winning streak to 9 consecutive matches over the last 10 days following her title win in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

It has been a Herculean effort by the Czech, who was relieved to clinch the win after Osaka saved a match point at 5-4 in the second set, and then fended off two more at 6-5.

“[I’m] happy that I survived somehow, and didn’t have to stay for the third set,” said Pliskova, who slept for only 4 hours before her opening-round win over Russian Anna Kalinskaya on Monday, having played the final in Romania the previous day.

Osaka came into Thursday’s quarter-final aiming to avenge the first loss of her 2024 come-back, which was to Pliskova in Brisbane in January.

The Japanese former World No 1 went up a mini-break at 5-3 in the first set tiebreak, but Pliskova won 2 consecutive points with a forehand winner and a backhand drop-shot to draw level at 5-5, and although Osaka fended off a set point at 6-5, the Czech converted her second chance with a forehand winner at 7-6.

Three consecutive lengthy games at the end of the second set, with Osaka erasing one match point at 5-4 and two more at 6-5, led them into another tiebreak.

A double-fault from Osaka gave Pliskova a 3-0 lead, but a Japanese return dribbled over the net-cord on the next point, and the breaker eventually became competitive again through 5-5.

Pliskova queued up her 4th match point by painting the lines twice before slamming a forehand winner to reach 6-5, when Osaka misfired on a service return and the Czech edged out the gripping win.

“Beating all these top players in this week, it’s incredible,” Pliskova said later. “Especially Naomi, such a champion. We played already [in 2024] so I knew it’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be about a couple points, and taking the chances, which there were just a couple of them.

“Happy that I survived somehow, and didn’t have to stay for a third set, that would be difficult.”

Pliskova is now 5-2 against Osaka, including her two wins this year, and although the Czech was out-aced by the 4-time Grand Slam champion 10-8 on this occasion, Pliskova is still this year’s tour leader in aces, with a total of 111.

The 31-year-old has lost all three of her previous meetings with Swiatek.

“I will have nothing to lose,” said Pliskova. “I have to play well, go for my shots and hopefully there’s going to be a small chance, I believe, if it’s windy a little bit, because I feel like I have a strong game in the wind.”

Elena Rybakina came from behind to defeat Leylah Fernandez in the Last 8 on Thursday afternoon

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

In the bottom half of the draw, Elena Rybakina from Kazakhstan defeated Canada’s Leylah Fernandez, 6-4 6-2, to set up a Last 4 showdown with Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who claimed a 7-5 6-4 victory over American Danielle Collins.

Rybakina, the No 3 seed, remains on track for a 3rd title of the season, having lifted the Brisbane and Abu Dhabi trophies earlier in the year.

She dropped serve twice at the start of the contest with Fernandez, but the 24-year-old stemmed the flow of errors from her racket and won 5 games in a row from 1-4 down to claim the opening set.

Fernandez showed more fight in the second, but the 2021 US Open runner-up could not prevent the former Wimbledon champion from grabbing 2 more breaks and powering to victory on the back of some big hitting.

“It was a difficult match. I didn’t start the set well. It took me some time to get used to Leylah’s ball,” Rybakina said after clinching a joint tour-leading 14th win of the season. “She plays very different. Also a lefty.

“I’m really happy I managed to win the first one. After that, it was a bit easier to start the second.”

Up next for the Moscow-born Kazakh is a clash with Pavlyuchenkova after the unseeded Russian reached the Doha semi-finals for the first time following her straight sets win over Collins, who had to qualify this week.

“Hopefully it’s going to be a great match to see. We know each other very well on the court, and off the court,” Rybakina added. “Hopefully I can recover, and show some good tennis.”

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beat Danielle Collins in straight sets to set up a semi-final meeting with Elena Rybakina in Doha

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Pavlyuchenkova, the 2021 Roland Garros finalist, made it into 4th career WTA 1000 semi-final, and her first on any surface since the 2021 Mutua Madrid Open.

“I have never played good in Qatar, so I always thought conditions were not, like, good for me and, for some reason, I never felt good playing here, and especially at this level event in these conditions,” Pavlyuchenkova admitted afterwards. “So now I’m just actually really proud of this even more, because sometimes you play, like I like, for example, Madrid or Roland Garros, and I’m not saying it’s normal that I would play well there, but it’s kind of different where, when you really feel like, ‘OK, this tournament is really tough and I don’t play good here over the years,’ and now you do well, this is more special.”

The World No 32 needed an hour and 34 minutes to see off Collins, a former World No 7, regrouping after losing a 5-2 lead to start the opener.

While Pavlyuchenkova hit fewer winners than Collins, 17 to 24, she also hit fewer unforced errors, 14 to 20, and went a perfect 4-for-4 on break points to score her first win in 4 career meetings against the American.

Pavlyuchenkova beat Rybakina in their only previous meeting on her way to the final at Roland Garros in 2021, and it was an epic, the Russian coming from a set down to win 6-7(2) 6-2 9-7.



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