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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, March 1, 2021

 
Victoria Azarenka

Victoria Azarenka denied seven of nine break points extending her recent mastery of Svetlana Kuznetsova to reach the Doha round of 16.

Photo credit: Carmen Mandato/USTA/Facebook

Victoria Azarenka doesn't blink at the prospect of a desert duel.

In a clash of Grand Slam champions, Azarenka showed strong will and sharp vision subduing Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-2, 6-3 advancing to the Qatar Total Open second round.

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Playing Doha for the first time in six years, Azarenka denied seven of nine break points—including fighting off five break points in the sixth game of the second set—extending her recent mastery of Kuznetsova.

Wild card Azarenka scored her fifth consecutive straight-sets win over Kuznetsova to take a 6-4 lead in their head-to-head series.

The two-time Doha champion played closer to the baseline throughout much of the match often stepping in to force Kuznetsova into sliding retrievals across the hard court.




This rematch of the 2016 Miami Open final saw Kuznetsova make a committed push in the sixth game of the second set. Azarenka fended off five break points in the longest game of the match—an 18-minute epic—that ended with Kuznetsova finding the net as Azarenka held strong for 4-2.

By then, the 39th-ranked Russian was a frustrating one for eight in break-point conversions. Losing that draining duel sapped some sharpness from the two-time Grand Slam champion's game Kuznetsova slapped a smash int net missed a wild backhand down the line to face double break point. Then Azarenka spun a forehand down the line breaking again for 5-2.

Credit Kuznetsova for stiff resistance as she saved five match points, including denying a cluster of three match points to break back for 3-5. Kuznetsova saved two more match points in the ensuing game, but Azarenka drilled a diagonal backhand return for a sixth match point.

Hammering a flat forehand down the line, Azarenka knocked a sliding Kuznetsova down for the count concluding a one hour, 51-minute win.

Tennis Express

Azarenka, who improved to 15-2 lifetime in Doha, will play either Elena Rybakina or Laura Siegemund in the round of 16.

The 31-year-old Belarusian was one of four former major champions to advance today.

Former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko spoiled Kiki Bertens’ comeback from left Achilles surgery scoring a 6-0, 6-2 sweep. The 49th-ranked Latvian won seven straight games to start defeating a rusty Bertens, who was playing her first match since a French Open loss to Martina Trevisan last October.

Ostapenko will face Wang Qiang or American qualifier Jessica Pegula in the round of 16.

Three-time major champion Angelique Kerber cracked served six times in a 6-4, 6-2 sweep of Turkey’s Cagla Buyukakcay that sends her into a round of 16 meetings vs. Anett Kontaveit. The hard-hitting Estonian baseliner toppled Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady 6-1, 6-2 in 56 minutes.

Two-time Slam champion Garbine Muguruza broke to open en route to a 6-2, 7-6(4) win over Veronika Kudermetova.

The 16th-ranked Spaniard, who was runner-up to Petra Kvitova at the 2018 Doha, set up a blockbuster round of 16 clash vs. defending champion Aryna Sabalenka.

Fresh off her run to the Australian Open doubles championship, Sabalenka and Azarenka give Belarus two Top-20 ranked women for the first time in the desert.


 

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