Doha | Top seeds cruise as defending champ Kvitova and Azarenka withdraw

A focused Aryna Sabalenka, the top seed at the Qatar TotalEnergies Open in Doha, swatted away the tricky Alizé Cornet to advance to the third round, but defending champion Petra Kvitova and former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka both retired because of injuries, while all the other seeds in action on Tuesday came through their various encounters with relatively routine wins.

After a great run in Russia that didn't end well, I'm very glad that I was able to come back strong here. I think I was very aggressive, especially in the first set, and when I had to be very solid against her, I was just making her play a lot of balls, taking my chances, returning well and serving out the match at the end. Maria Sakkari

Elise Mertens benefitted when Kvitova could not continue at a set down because of a wrist injury, leaving the Belgian 16th seed 7-5, 1-2 up to take on Anett Kontaveit in the round of 16 after the 4th-seeded Estonian polished off Ukrainian qualifier Ana Kinjuh, 6-2 6-3, on Monday.

Kvitova won the Qatar Open in 2018 and 2021, defeating Garbiñe Muguruza in the final on both occasions.

Azarenka joined Kvitova on the sidelines after hip pain forced her to withdraw ahead of her match against American Madison Brengle, ranked 60, who advanced after a walkover to face Muguruza, the No 5 seed here, in the next round.

Sabalenka showed no sign of the serving issues that have dogged her matches in 2022 as she produced an efficient 6-2 6-2 win over Cornet.

“It definitely wasn’t easy,” said Sabalenka, the World No 2, after her win. “It was a really tough match. She played really well, she pushed me a lot.

“I expected long rallies in this match and I prepared myself for this kind of rallies.

“The tactic was just to stay in the point as long as I can, push her as much as I can, and to serve well.”

One of 6 former champions in the field in Doha, Sabalenka denied the unseeded Cornet her 4th win over a seeded opponent in the season’s first two months with a comprehensive performance.

The Belarusian broke serve at 1-1 in the first set and never trailed from there, while she also broke to love to start the second set in front, and hit more winners, 22 to 8, and less unforced errors, 28 to 34, than Cornet in the match.


Barbora Krejcikova had an easy win over Magda Linette in Doha

© Mohamed Farag/Getty Images

Sabalenka now faces Swiss left-hander Jil Teichmann, who backed up an opening upset of Germany’s Angelique Kerber with a 7-6(9) 7-5 win over Alison van Uytvanck from Belgium.

Teichmann led by a break for much of the opener, but ultimately needed 5 set points to see off the set in a dramatic tiebreak.

Van Uytvanck also rallied from an early break down in the second, but Teichmann sealed the win by claiming the last 3 games.

Another Czech, Barbora Krejcikova, the World No 3, set up a rematch from last month’s Australian Open with Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko after the 2nd seed demolished Poland’s Magda Linette, 6-1 6-3.

Ostapenko, the No 15 seed, scored her 7th win in a row when she outlasted America’s Amanda Anisimova, 6-3 4-6 6-4 after an hour and 39 minutes.

The Latvian won her 5th career title in Dubai last week and her 2022 win-loss record of 11-3 coming into the match was nearly matched by Anisimova, who was 9-2 this year after winning the Melbourne Summer Set 2 title and reaching the 4th round of the Australian Open.

In the first meeting between the pair, Ostapenko collected the first set in half an hour, but Anisimova struck back to take the second, breaking the Latvian in the last game to level the match after just over an hour of play.

In the final frame, the Ostapenko power game dominated from the outset, as she won 16 of the first 18 points to lead 4-0.

Anisimova clawed one break back, but Ostapenko held firm, converting her 3rd match point after a netted backhand return by Anisimova.


Maria Sakkari came from a break down to defeat Ann Li in straight sets on Tuesday

© Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images

Maria Sakkari, the 6th seed from Greece, was a 6-3 6-3 winner over American Ann Li, coming from a break down in the second set.

“It was a tricky match and especially a tricky second set, but I’m very glad with the way I played and the way I handled the pressure in the second set,” Sakkari said. “She plays very well, she’s an upcoming player, so I’m very pleased with my performance.

“After a great run in Russia that didn’t end well, I’m very glad that I was able to come back strong here.

”I think I was very aggressive, especially in the first set, and when I had to be very solid against her, I was just making her play a lot of balls, taking my chances, returning well and serving out the match at the end.”

Sakkari and Pegula, the 9th seed, will play for the 4th time, and the 3rd time in the span of a year, with the Greek out for revenge after the American won in straight sets in the 4th round of the Australian Open.

“She played a very good match in Australia, I have to say,” she said. “It was a tough loss for me, but I’m very excited to play her again.

“I think it’s going to be a very nice match for people to watch and a very nice match for both of us. … We’re both playing well and this is one more time of us facing each other, so I’m excited.”


Ons Jabeur needed 3 sets to get past qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich in Doha

© Mohamed Farag/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Poland’s Iga Swiatek overcame Viktorija Golubic from Switzerland, 6-2 3-6 6-2, the 2020 Roland Garros champion and 7th seed needing just over 2 hours to claim the hard-fought win and claim her spot in the Doha round of 16 for the first time in her career.

Swiatek saved 5 break points in her first 2 service games before romping through the rest of the opening set., but Golubic stormed back in the second, building a commanding double-break lead and breaking the Pole in the last game to level the match.

Regrouping in the decider, Swiatek took charge, slamming an incredible backhand winner down the line to break for a 3-2 lead.

Serving for the match at 5-2, Swiatek swatted away 2 break points with aggressive play, dictating with her forehand through the rest of the game to seal victory.

Swiatek will face Daria Kasatkina in the third round on Wednesday after the Russian advanced when Jaqueline Cristian, a lucky loser from Romania, retired at 6-2, 2-2 down.

Tunisian Ons Jabeur overcame Belarusian qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich, the No. 8 seed coming from a set down to seal the win, 1-6 7-5 6-3.

“It’s never easy playing her,” Jabeur said. “She’s such a player and she had three matches ahead of me, so it wasn’t easy getting into the court and into the match.

“The first set was very difficult for me. I tried to remain calm in the second set and try to play my game. It wasn’t easy … and I’m glad that even if I didn’t play good in the first set, I was able to come back and play my tennis.”

Elsewhere, American teenager Coco Gauff defeated France’s Caroline Garcia, 6-2 7-6, to set up a last-16 meeting with Paula Badosa, the 3rd seed from Spain, who recorded a straight-sets victory over Denmark’s teenager, Clara Tauson, 6-1 6-2.

Gauff took an hour 32 minutes to see off Garcia, a former Top 5 player, the 17-year old winning 81 percent of her first-service points to notch the win.



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