The WTA tour has moved away from Australia with the Middle East swing kicking off in Doha. It’s the classic WTA draw with so many 50-50 match-ups. I tentatively went for a Kvitova-Muguruza final in my Draw Challenge. Last week in Adelaide, Iga Swiatek won the title without dropping a set. Very, very impressed with Swiatek. A super solid start to the season as she continues to demonstrate that her game is sustainable after that French Open run. Read on for highlights from the first day of main draw action at the 2021 Qatar Total Open.
Day 1️⃣ Highlights
(8) Victoria Azarenka d. Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-2 6-3
In a real blast-from-the-past match-up, Azarenka beat Kuznetsova for the fifth consecutive time. It was the first time that the pair have played each other since the Miami final of 2016. If you watch back any tennis from Monday, please let it be the game at 3-2 in the second set. It had 11 deuces (!). There were some brilliant rallies and Kuznetsova came up with a few worldies. On the whole, I thought it was a very encouraging display from Azarenka who returned superbly. The match was closer than the scoreline suggested. It’s rare to see a 6-2 6-3 result take an hour and 52 minutes. Azarenka was mostly clutch and won five of the six games that went to deuce.
I really didn’t know what to expect from Azarenka at this tournament, or generally this season for that matter. I guess I had my reservations whether she could maintain her late 2020 resurgence and play a full schedule too. Azarenka is undoubtedly at her best on the hard courts and has a great record in Doha where she’s reached the final in her last three appearances (2012, 2013 and 2015). Definitely one to watch this week.
Garbiñe Muguruza d. Veronika Kudermetova, 6-2 7-6(4)
As the second set meandered into a tiebreak, I thought this had three sets written all over it. For a set and a half, Muguruza had owned most of the key exchanges. Muguruza had been resolute on serve until she came to serve for the match, leading 6-2 *5-4. Muguruza twice failed to serve it out and then Kudermetova quickly went up 3-0 in the second set tiebreak with Muguruza making a seemingly costly mis-judgement on the first point of it. No sweat for Muguruza who calmly rallied to win seven of the last eight points.
I’m high on Muguruza right now. I thought this was another gritty display and she has become so, so tough to beat. Muguruza is still missing that title and coming up short in some big matches since her resurgence at the start of 2020. Next up in Doha is a blockbuster match-up with the defending champion, Aryna Sabalenka. I tend to think it’s going to all fall into place for Muguruza at some point this year…
Anett Kontaveit d. (7) Jen Brady, 6-1 6-2
It was just nine days ago that Jen Brady was competing in the final of the Australian Open. Brady was quickly back to the grind of tour life and rather back down to earth with quite a jolt. In the first main draw match of the tournament, Anett Kontaveit beat Brady in just 56 minutes!
I’d say the result was more about Kontaveit playing a great match and not allowing a slow-starting Brady to find her feet. Brady had a few openings on the Kontaveit serve in the second set but she returned poorly and didn’t muster one break point. In contrast, Kontaveit was all over Brady’s serve, managing to land flat first strikes in play. I’ve always liked Anett so was glad to see her get a big win. She’s a solid top 30 player right now. I think her ceiling is higher but there’s so much competition these days.
Jelena Ostapenko d. (5) Kiki Bertens, 6-0 6-2
It was lovely to see Kiki Bertens competing again after she decided to have surgery on her achilles in October last year. I would guess Ostapenko is not an ideal opponent to see across the net in your first match in five months! Bertens was understandably off-the-pace. It was one of those days where the ball was going in more often that not for Ostapenko and she was ruthless, beating Bertens in less than a hour. Not a worry at all for Kiki. She just needs matches and time. Interesting to see Marion Bartoli back in Ostapenko’s corner. That was a very successful pairing when Bartoli joined Ostapenko at the back end of 2019, reaching back-to-back finals in Linz and Luxembourg.
Hot shot 🔥
The Sveta pick-up in *that* 3-2 game was spectacular!
Day 2 watchlist 📺
The match of the day for Tuesday will see Belinda Bencic take on Madison Keys. Lots of unknowns with this one as Keys plays her first match of 2021 and Bencic has a quick turnaround from playing Saturday’s final in Adelaide.