Garbiñe Muguruza pulled off the upset of the day on Wednesday by taking out the defending champion of the Qatar Total Open, rolling through the final 4 games to overcome Aryna Sabalenka, 6-2 6-7(5) 6-3, while other top seeds, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka all reached the quarter-finals safely.
I just had to match her. If I have an opponent who is playing great, I have to play better. We were pushing each other. In the end, I could take a little advantage and close in the third set. Garbiñe Muguruza
Muguruza is the highest-ranked unseeded player in the Doha field at World No 16, and is a dangerous floater in the draw, which Sabalenka learnt to her cost as she bowed out after a hard-fought match that lasted 2 hours and 18 minutes.
“I’m very motivated to play top players,” Muguruza said in her post-match press conference. “Like everybody, I worked hard.
“I’m fighting for trophies, to play well in big tournaments, in good tournaments.
“Today I was facing a top player, and I knew I have to go out there with a big, fighting spirit, and [be] strong to be able to win against these tough opponents.”
In the first three-setter of the week, Muguruza broke twice in the first set and while she shared 6 breaks of serve with the No 3 seed from Belarus in the second, and served for the match, the Spaniard was edged in the tiebreak.
In the third, Muguruza came from a break down to storm past Sabalenka and end the Belarusian’s undefeated record at the event, having won the title last year in her tournament debut.
Amazingly, both came out with equal winner and unforced error counts for the match, but Muguruza was more successful when she held break points, converting 7 of 17 while Sabalenka went 4-for-13.
“I was just fighting,” she said during her on-court interview. “We both were playing great, and I had my chances in the second set, but couldn’t convert and close the match.
“She came back stronger, but I just kept fighting and thinking I could win.”
Muguruza arrived in the Middle East after finishing as the runner-up at the Yarra Valley Classic, and played what was arguably the match of the Australian Open against the eventual champion Naomi Osaka, holding 2 match points against her.
Despite taking the court without her coach Conchita Martinez, who is in isolation after a positive COVID-19 test on arrival in Doha, the Spaniard has shrugged off the inconvenience and is showing the form that took her to the top of the rankings and two Grand Slam titles.
Sabalenka, too, arrived after a similarly narrow loss to Serena Williams in Melbourne and received a bye in the first round, but the World No 8 looked dialled in after falling behind by an early break in the second set, winning 5 of the next 6 games to edge within two points of a final set.
Muguruza held firm in those crucial moments, reversing the deficit to find herself serving for the match but was ultimately broken.
Sabalenka quickly earned the first mini-break of the ensuing tiebreak and although Muguruza broke back with a searing backhand pass, the 3rd seed powered past with a backhand of her own to level the contest at one set apiece.
“I just had to match her,” Muguruza said. “If I have an opponent who is playing great, I have to play better.
“We were pushing each other. In the end, I could take a little advantage and close in the third set.”
With both women playing their best early in the decider, it was Sabalenka who was first with the initiative, emerging from a trilogy of titanic games to break Muguruza with another thunderous backhand.
Muguruza, however, would not be denied, drawing the 22-year-old into one last epic game lasting 6 deuces to reclaim the momentum, after which she lost just 2 points in the final 3 games to reach her second quarter-final of the season.
Awaiting her there is Maria Sakkari, who defeated the Spaniard at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open back in January, after the Greek beat Madison Keys from the United States, 6-2 6-2.
“I’m looking forward. Every match here is very difficult because there’s great players, it’s a big tournament. Every time I go out, I expect a battle.”
Sakkari made a swift day of it, ousting Keys in 68 minutes for her spot in the elite 8 and facing just a single break point in the match, which she saved, as she picked up her second win in two meetings with the American.
The Greek claimed a superb 77 percent of her second-service points to bolster her service prowess during the match, and she broke Keys 4 times en route to victory.
Keys was playing her season-opening event this week after a 5-month absence from tournament play.
Earlier in the day, doubles partners Victoria Azarenka and Elina Svitolina booked a quarter-final clash against one another after scoring straight-set victories over Laura Siegemund and Misaki Doi, respectively.
While Azarenka’s 6-4 6-2 win over the German took an hour 54 minutes, Svitolina breezed past the lucky loser from Japan, 6-1 6-2, to reach her third quarter-final of the season in 64 minutes.
The World No 5 fired 26 winners to just 10 unforced errors to seal her victory against an opponent to whom she had lost previously, and the Ukrainian charged an early 3-0 lead with solid serving and penetrating backhands.
Svitolina was never troubled on serve in the opener as she romped to the one-set lead behind 2 breaks of the Doi service.
In the doubles, however, Azarenka & Svitolina met their match in Siegemund & Russia’s Elena Vesnina, who is celebrating her return to the tour in Doha since taking maternity leave.
Vesnina is the reigning Olympic doubles champion who, with her partner, faced formidable foes in Azarenka & Svitolina but won her first match since 2018, 4-6 7-5 [10-8].
“I was really enjoying myself on the court today, every second of it, even when we were down a set and a break,” she explained in a voice memo after the match. “My partner was tired because she’d had gone through qualies and had a tough singles match earlier today.
“I was telling her, ‘I’ve been in this situation many, many times, so don’t worry. It’s ok, relax, and be positive.
“She was like, ‘You’re always smiling!’ I told her, ‘We shouldn’t cry, because it’s a great day. We’re playing against great champions, so just enjoy yourself.’
“I’ve missed the adrenaline, and it was even better that we could finish with a win.”
Meanwhile, another former Doha champion and No 4 seed Petra Kvitova also eased into the last 8 with a 6-1 6-3 win against Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
The Czech next takes on Anett Kontaveit from Estonia, who dispatched Angelique Kerber from Germany 6-1 6-4.
No 2 seed Karolina Pliskova, also from the Czech Republic, had to work hard for her win, going the distance against Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, eventually winning through 6-4 4-6 7-5.
“The conditions are good for me – she plays a lot of tough shots,” Pliskova said.
“I think she can play a little bit of everything, she can play slices, drop shots, she serves well – she’s improving with every year.”
It was second three-setter of the tournament, which occurred in late into the night, and saw Pliskova survive a stern challenge from Jabeur.
Although Pliskova converted only 50 percent of her first serves into play, she won three-quarters of those points and also converted 5 of her 10 break points and staved off 40 winners from the racket of Jabeur.
Pliskova let an early break lead slip in the first set, but came through in the final game, using improved mobility to fend off a bevy of Jabeur groundstrokes and break serve to claim the one-set lead.
A 3-0 lead in the second set had Pliskova well on her way to victory before a mix of down-the-line groundstrokes and deft drop-shots by the Tunisian saw her come charging back as Jabeur won 6 of the final 7 games in the second set to level the match.
Pliskova again saw an advantage slip from her grasp in the decider after the Czech led 5-2 and held a match point, but she missed a volley to squander the chance.
More drop-shots from Jabeur pulled her back to 5-5, but Pliskova powered through the final 2 games to grab the victory after just over two hours of play.
Next up for Pliskova will be a quarter-final match with qualifier Jessica Pegula, who got past wild card Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia, 6-2 7-5.