It’s been another week where the seeds have been falling, left, right and centre although unlike Dubai, one of them has managed to avoid the apple cart of upsets to reach the final. Step forward the number eight seed, Carla Suárez Navarro who produced an upset of her own to take out Agnieszka Radwanska in the semi-finals, 6-2 6-0 in 62 (!) minutes. It was a surprising result, particularly as Radwanska had won their last match in Melbourne last month handily, 6-1 6-3 and Radwanska had played some sensational tennis to come from a set down to beat Roberta Vinci on Thursday night. While Radwanska wasn’t quite at the races, perhaps from the late finish the night before, Suárez Navarro produced a polished performance, finishing with stats of 21 winners to just 8 unforced errors.
Suárez Navarro’s opponent in the final will be the 18-year-old, Jelena Ostapenko… I don’t think anyone saw this one coming! While Ostapenko clearly staked her intent in 2015, qualifying for the US Open main draw and reaching her first WTA final at the International event in Quebec City, her recent record on the WTA tour had been poor. After losing to Naomi Broady in Auckland, a dramatic match that she had multiple match points in, the young Latvian player had lost four of her last five matches.
Arriving in Doha where she thought she would be in qualifying but made main draw after some late withdrawals, Ostapenko has blasted her way through the field, dropping just one set to Petra Kvitova and knocking out another seed in Svetlana Kuznetsova. Ostapenko benefitted from a retirement by Andrea Petkovic in the semi-finals (*sad face*); she won the last six games to win the first set, 7-5 with Petkovic retiring one game into the second set, clearly hampered by a leg injury… fingers crossed Petko is good to go for Indian Wells.
Head-to-head record: In their only previous match, Ostapenko thrashed Suarez Navarro, 6-2 6-0 in a surprising first round result at Wimbledon last year. Ostapenko was a wildcard having won the juniors title the year before. I was at Wimbledon on that day and remember coming out of court 3 and meandering my way through the crowd that had gathered as a jumping-for-joy Ostapenko made her way back to the locker room. I had been on my way to watch the end of the match and was flabbergasted to find that it had already finished!
Interesting stat: Ostapenko lost her only WTA final in Quebec City last year to Annika Beck, 2-6 2-6. Suárez Navarro’s record in WTA finals is patchy to say the least; she is 1-8 with her only title coming in Oeiras in 2014 in a wackadoodle three set final with Svetlana Kuznetsova. She reached three finals in 2015 in Antwerp (withdrew with neck injury), Miami (l. to Serena, 2-6 0-6) and Rome (l. to Sharapova, 6-4 5-7 1-6)
Final thoughts: While it’s by no means the final that anyone had anticipated, this has the potential to be a very interesting one. Suárez Navarro goes in as the clear rankings favourite as well as the player with the overwhelming experience in these situations. She will be eager to wipe away the pain of that first round loss at Wimbledon which had a huge impact on the second half of her 2015 season. I think this match will be a huge test of the Spaniard’s character. While she played great against Radwanska and has been super solid all week in Doha, there have been a number of occasions where she has failed to “get up” for big matches.
Ostapenko is a dangerous opponent and one who is not afraid to step in and go for her shots. While her only experience in WTA finals was a quick one (and not in a good way!) and this is new ground once more being a Premier 5 tournament, it is likely that she would have learnt something from that experience. As to a winner, i’m a little stumped! If Suárez Navarro can maintain her position on the baseline and play with the authority that she has done this week, she should be strong enough to prevail. However, if nerves get in the way, and Ostapenko can keep a steady head, the Latvian player has a real shot at winning the whole caboodle…