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Ostapenko Wins Battle Of Underdogs

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

DOHA, Qatar – Jelena Ostapenko prevailed in Thursday’s battle of the giant killers at the Qatar Total Open, seeing off Zheng Saisai in straight sets.

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Twenty-four hours on from her dismissal of two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, Ostapenko produced another scintillating display of baseline aggression to blow away Zheng, 6-4, 6-3, in an hour and 38 minutes.

While Zheng was unable to replicate the standards she set in upsetting top seed Angelique Kerber last time out, she battled away gamely throughout. After weathering early onslaughts in both sets – she trailed 3-0 in the first and 4-1 in the second – Zheng clung onto her teenage foe’s coattails to remain competitive.

However, her resistance was finally broken in a titanic penultimate game, Ostapenko converting her fifth break point when a clubbing backhand landed on the baseline. Moments later the Latvian arrived at match point, converting with another pin-point winner.

“First I thought I was going to be playing qualies, but then I was second in and got into the main draw,” Ostapenko said. “Then win by win, I was playing better and better. I’m so happy I’m still here!”

Ostapenko was prepared to take risks – 33 winners were outnumbered by 45 unforced errors – and her reward is a maiden Premier semifinal, where she will meet either Garbiñe Muguruza or Andrea Petkovic.

“They are both great players, so I’ll probably watch today how they’ll play and I’m looking forward to playing tomorrow.”

In the following match, Carla Suárez Navarro restored a sense of order with a 6-3, 7-6(3) win over qualifier Elena Vesnina. The result takes Suárez Navarro into her second semifinal in Doha and also back into the Top 10.

The Spaniard has been one of the most consistent performers on tour in recent years and has been vocal about her hopes of rising even higher.

“Today was very tough, she has won a lot of matches and is playing really well,” Suárez Navarro said. “In the second set she was amazing! But I just fight and I also played a good match.

“It’s tough on tour, but I feel good on tour and this year I feel ready to go further.”

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Insider Debates: Who Will Win In Doha

Insider Debates: Who Will Win In Doha

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

Courtney Nguyen, Point: For the second straight season, Carla Suárez Navarro has started the year by playing her best tennis. And yet, 2016 feels different. The Spaniard was the most consistent player in the first half of 2015, making the quarterfinals or better at 10 of her first 11 tournaments. Yet she had no titles to show for it, and most importantly, she struggled mightily at the majors. She lost in the first round of three of the four majors.

With her dominant 6-2, 6-0 win over World No.3 Agnieszka Radwanska, Suárez Navarro has backed up yet another strong start and is one win away from the biggest title of her career at the Qatar Total Open. Her run in Doha comes off a great January, which saw her make the semifinals at the Brisbane International and the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. With a more aggressive mindset and renewed calm – she has been working with a sports psychologist – the Canary Islands native has reversed her trend and is now finding her best tennis at the sport’s biggest events.

On Monday she will rise to a career-high ranking at No.6, just one spot short of her pre-season goal of cracking the Top 5. If she wins the title she will rise to No.2 in the Road to Singapore behind Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber.

Carla Suarez Navarro

As the women around her fell to upset, Suárez Navarro has been been workmanlike in her effort and consistency. She has not dropped a set in her four matches, with wins over Donna Vekic, Timea Bacsinszky, Elena Vesnina, and Radwanska. Not even a scary fall late in the first set against Radwanska could derail her.

But she goes from being largely overlooked at the start of the week, to the underdog in her semifinal, to the overwhelming favorite in Saturday’s final. Suárez Navarro is the first to admit that the nerves can get to her in the big occasions. With 18-year-old Jelena Ostapenko playing her first Premier final on Saturday, Suárez Navarro is the one with the experience. Just last year she made finals at the Miami Open and Italian Open.

But unlike the rest of the women Ostapenko stunned this week, Suárez Navarro knows exactly what to expect against the Latvian. Ostapenko steamrolled her last year in the first round at Wimbledon, 6-2, 6-0, in a loss that sent the Spaniard reeling for the remainder of the season.

“She played really fast, really fast,” Suárez Navarro told reporters in Doha. “She knows how to play tennis. She play also solid here this week, I saw her. But in the final, you never know what going to be happen. A lot of emotions, nervous sometimes. Will be tough.”

“I need to be ready, because I know how she plays. If she plays good, will be tough for me.”

Carla Suarez Navarro

I don’t put much stock in that Wimbledon loss. A junior Wimbledon champion, Ostapenko’s game is well suited for grass and fast surfaces, while it is by far the Spaniard’s worst surface. The Spaniard also came into that tournament exhausted from the first six months of the season. It’s a different story this week.

This is no gimme for Suárez Navarro, but she’s shown no sign of weakness all tournament. In fact, she’s played better and better with every match. Against Radwanska, she held her position on the baseline with ease and took the ball clean and early. As she told the crowd afterwards, she was feeling the ball good. She could put the ball wherever she wanted.

Ostapenko offers a completely different challenge. She hits a big flat ball. She’s far more offensive-minded than Radwanska and the depth and weight of her shot can push her opponents off the baseline. She also can struggle with consistency and rack up errors quickly. If Suárez Navarro can play her game and move Ostapenko deep into the corners, she should be able to outsteady her more erratic opponent.

David Kane, Counterpoint: Jelena Ostapenko came to Doha having won just one main draw match since reaching her first WTA final at the Coupe Banque Nationale in September. Two players out of the main draw, the 18-year-old Latvian was merely gearing herself up for another bout of qualifying at the start of the week.

“First, it was like second round of qualies, and I was just really happy that I got main draw,” she said on Friday. “In my first match, I was just trying to play my best tennis. Match by match, I played better and better.”

Elevating her game for some stiff opposition, Ostapenko earned back-to-back wins over Svetlana Kuznetsova and No.5 seed Petra Kvitova.

“I beat some players in the Top 10, some Grand Slam champions, as well. I get confidence from that. I’m able to see that I can also play on that level.

“It’s better for me because with every match I get more and more confident.”

Jelena Ostapenko

She outhit Zheng Saisai in the quarterfinals and refused to buckle in the semis, even as she fell behind 5-1 in the first set against Andrea Petkovic. Narrowly losing some tight early games to the German, Ostapenko found her range off her booming forehand – one reminiscent of Ana Ivanovic or even Anna Kournikova – just as her opponent began to struggle with a left thigh injury, retiring after losing seven games in a row.

“I was just trying to stay consistent and to not miss easy balls, because she was playing amazing in the first set. I was just trying to fight for every point and I think it helped me.

“I feel pity for Andrea that she couldn’t finish the match. I hope she recovers better. After when she’s in a good form, we can have a great match.”

Unafraid of big stages, she won main draw matches in her Grand Slam main draw debuts at Wimbledon and the US Open, trouncing Suárez Navarro, 6-2, 6-0, at the former.

“It was a great match for me because it was my first win against a Top 10 player, and grass is my favorite surface. I felt really good there.

“She’s playing really great this week. It’s going to be a tough match tomorrow.”

Jelena Ostapenko

Her run in Doha already guarantees her of a Top 50 debut, joining fellow 18-year-olds Belinda Bencic and Daria Kasatkina – the largest cohort of teens since 2009. While Bencic and Kasatkina rely more on consistency, Ostapenko is a streaky player, and has been on one heck of a streak in Qatar, dropping just one set in five matches.

Playing one of the biggest matches of her career, she can certainly hit through the Spanish veteran – proving as much at the All England Club – and so the question will be whether the young Latvian will be able to hold her nerve and keep control of her powerhouse game.

As bluntly precise in press as she is on the court, the youngster sees things even more simply.

“I will try to show my best tennis.”

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

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10 Things: Monterrey & Kuala Lumpur

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

Every week brings you 10 Things To Know about the week – who is playing, where and much more. This week the Road To Singapore goes through Monterrey and Kuala Lumpur…

1) Dubai champion Sara Errani is in search of her second title of 2016…
Errani endured a tough start to the season, losing in the first round of the Australian Open to rising Russian Margarita Gasparyan and both Fed Cup rubbers to Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic. But it all came together for the Italian veteran in Dubai, as she captured the biggest title of her career and her first on hardcourts since 2008. Top seed at the Abierto Monterrey Afirme, Errani will look to shake off an early loss at the Qatar Total Open to the big-serving Timea Babos and maintain her momentum heading into Indian Wells and Miami.

2) …provided she can get past unseeded and looming Dominika Cibulkova.
The 2014 Australian Open finalist has been trying to return to form since an ankle injury ruled her out for much of last spring. Ranked outside the Top 60 since failing to defend quarterfinal points from 2015, Cibulkova roared into the finals of last week’s Abierto Mexicano Telcel – dropping just one set along the way and narrowly losing an epic three-setter to Sloane Stephens. Back up to No.57, Cibulkova could play Errani in the second round, and leads her 5-3 in overall head-to-head (though they haven’t played since 2013).

3) Can Caroline Wozniacki kickstart her season?
Seeded No.2 in Mexico, Caroline Wozniacki began her season in solid form at the ASB Classic, where she reached the semifinals and fell to eventual champion Stephens. Since then, the Dane has won just two matches, losing in three-sets to Elena Vesnina for only the second time in eight meetings at the Qatar Total Open. Playing Olga Govortsova in the first round, Wozniacki could face big-hitters like Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and Babos early; how will the former No.1 fare?

4) Johanna Konta looks to build on Melbourne momentum.
Australian Open semifinalist Johanna Konta has only won one match outside Melbourne, a first round against Anett Kontaveit in Acapulco. Down 5-1 in the final set to Lucic-Baroni in the next round, the Brit rebounded to 5-5 only to lose, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5. Seeded No.4 in Monterrey and in the Errani half of the draw, Konta is projected to face No.6 seed Alison Van Uytvanck in the quarterfinals, but wildcard and Rio Open winner Francesca Schiavone also looms in her bracket.

5) Might Caroline Garcia go one better in Monterrey?
No.5 seed Caroline Garcia opens against a qualifier, and must have good memories of this tournament in Mexico, having reached the final here 12 months ago – losing to Timea Bacinszky in three sets. Garcia is coming off of a breakthrough run at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships – her best-ever result at a WTA Premier event. Though she dropped her opener against Elena Vesnina in Doha, the Russian went on to upset Simona Halep and Wozniacki en route to the quarterfinals; can the Frenchwoman pick up from where she left off?

6) Medina Garrigues and Parra Santonja are in position for a Mexian sweep.
Anabel Medina Garrigues and Arantxa Parra Santonja have been a force to be reckoned with on the doubles court, reaching the semifinals or better at all but one of their events entered thus far in 2016. Their biggest result came last week when they captured the title in Acapulco, defeating No.2 seeds Kiki Bertens and Johanna Larsson, 6-0, 6-4. Top seeds for a second straight week, can the Spaniards cement their status as Olympic darkhorses with a second title?

7) Red-hot Roberta Vinci is the top seed in Kuala Lumpur.
Roberta Vinci became the oldest woman in WTA history to make her Top 10 debut last week, and played up to her rank in a thrilling quarterfinal encounter with World No.3 Agnieszka Radwanska. Taking a wildcard into the BMW Malaysian Open, Vinci opens against Chang Kai-Chen, with No.6 seed Eugenie Bouchard a potential quarterfinal opponent. In their only prior meeting, Vinci bounced the Canadian, 6-1, 6-0, and has been playing top-flight tennis ever since, reaching the US Open final and winning her first title of the season at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy.

8) Elina Svitolina aims to continue climbing with Henin in her corner.
The Ukrainian youngster recently added former No.1 Justine Henin to her coaching team, and the results were immediate; unseeded in Dubai, she upset Garbiñe Muguruza in straight sets before reaching the semifinals. Another wildcard entrant in Kuala Lumpur, Svitolina opens against qualifier Miyu Kato, but could play rising Russian Elizaveta Kulichkova, who took out Zarina Diyas to make the quarterfinals of the Taiwan Open.

9) Zheng Saisai is within striking distance of a career-high ranking.
China’s Zheng Saisai had a big week in Doha, eliminating top seed and reigning Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber and nearly ending the then-40-match winning streak of Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza in doubles – all in one day. Zheng backed up the win to reach the quarterfinals, a result that brought her up to No.63 to start this week – two away from her career-high of No.61. Seeded No.8 in Kuala Lumpur, Zheng could play No.3 seed Sabine Lisicki in the quarterfinals; the German has struggled to start the season, winning just two matches in three tournaments.

10) Find out where you can watch live action this week.

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