Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, cheered on by the small Qatar Open crowd like a home star, deployed masterful racquet work, landing crucial shots out of rival and second seed Karolina Pliskova’s reach but was inconsistent, succumbing 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 on Wednesday in their second round clash in Doha.
It was Jabeur who defeated the Czech during their last encounter in Doha in 2020 but this time it was 2017 Qatar champion Pliskova who booked her ticket to her first hard-court quarter-final since 2020 Dubai.
The Tunisian dug deep to secure crucial points, including an ace in the sixth game of the second set which ramped up pressure on the more experienced Pliskova.
But Jabeur was clearly taxed by her Czech opponent’s agility as the humidity mounted, slowing down her game.
A superb forehand won her the second set, sending the match to a third.
After Pliskova won the first game of the third, Jabeur shot back with some inspired play during rapid fire volleys, aided by Pliskova’s unforced errors.
But ultimately Pliskova proved she had the answers for Jabeur’s self-proclaimed “crazy shots”.
“The conditions are good for me — she plays a lot of tough shots,” said Pliskova.
“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.”
Petra Kvitova, the Czech number four seed and another former Qatar Open champion, distinguished herself with a 6-1, 6-3 demolition of Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
“I can’t really say that I was specifically working on the serve in the time” between the Australian Open and Doha, she said after her victory.
– ‘Play aggressive’ –
Kvitova used her serve to enormous effect on a number of Pavlyuchenkova’s break points, dominating the first set and steering the second to victory — avoiding a third, unlike eight of their past 12 matches which went the duration.
Kvitova said that anticipating her opponent’s playing style ultimately gave her the upper hand.
“I know Nasia likes to play aggressive as well. So I was trying to be the first one (so) that she doesn’t have the time,” said Kvitova.
Garbine Muguruza, the highest-ranked unseeded player in the draw, ousted defending champion Aryna Sabalenka 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3.
Along with Simona Halep, Sabalenka was the only player to lift three singles titles during the virus-disrupted 2020 season.
The three-set epic, the first of the week to go the duration, saw Spain’s Muguruza atone for her defeat at the hand’s of the Belarusian at their only previous meeting, in Beijing in 2018.
Top seed Elina Svitolina easily saw off lucky loser Misaki Doi 6-1 6-2 making Qatar the third tournament of the season at which she has reached the quarter-finals, needing just an hour to see off her Japanese opponent.
Number eight seed and former world number one Victoria Azarenka prevailed 6-4, 6-2 over qualifier Laura Siegemund.
Maria Sakkari was in a hurry, dispatching American Madison Keys, 6-2, 6-2 in one hour eight minutes to reach the final eight.
© 2021 AFP