The end of the Australian summer has sent the WTA stars back to the Middle East and Europe as they prepare to converge on the Miami Open at the end of March.
Catch up with some of the highlights as main draw action got underway at the Qatar Total Open and the Open 6ème Sens — Métropole de Lyon.
Azarenka Maintains Kuznetsova Mastery in Veteran Clash
Victoria Azarenka won her first match since bowing out of the Australian Open in a marquee encounter with Svetlana Kuznetsova, knocking out the former world No. 2, 6-2, 6-3, in Doha.
“I’ve always had such great times playing in Doha, ever since we first started coming here to play the WTA Championships,” she said on-court after the match. “I made a lot of friends in Qatar so I really looked forward to coming back. It’s unfortunate we can’t have the full stands, which I’m used to seeing, but I’m just so happy to have a tournament in such difficult times.”
Azarenka had been an early casualty of the hard quarantine, losing to eventual quarterfinalist Jessica Pegula in Melbourne before opting to play in Doha for the first time since winning the title for a second straight year in 2013.
Kuznetsova went one round better than Azarenka at the Australian Open, but hadn’t won a set against the Belarusian since 2009.
“It’s always special to play against Sveta. We’ve been playing against each other for so long and had some really memorable matches, even here in Doha. I admire her desire and passion to continue playing. She’s achieved so much that she could easily say goodbye to tennis and be satisfied with her journey. She’s inspired me so much.”
After a slow start, the duo put on a show for Centre Court as the match ramped towards a thrilling conclusion, playing through five titanic games until Azarenka converted her sixth match point.
The No. 8 seed will next face either Elena Rybakina or qualifier Laura Siegemund for a spot in the quarterfinals, where top seed Elina Svitolina will likely await.
Former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko scored the most emphatic upset of the day, playing pitch-perfect aggression to dispatch No. 5 seed Kiki Bertens, 6-0, 6-2.
Bertens was playing her first match of the season after missing the Australian Open due to an Achilles injury, but had no answers to the Latvian’s heavy hitting.
“I think Jelena was playing really well today,” Bertens said in her post-match press conference. “I think she had a great performance. Of course, my performance was not good, but I think it was more her than me today.”
Ostapenko started the year by pushing Elina Svitolina to three sets in Melbourne, and hit an astounding 26 winners to just 19 unforced errors. Winning 11 of the first 12 games, she shook off a late break as she served for the match to break Bertens six times and score a second straight win over the Dutch powerhouse.
Working with 2013 Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, the former world No. 5 will play Pegula or Wang Qiang in the second round.
Australian Open runner-up Jennifer Brady also suffered an early exit on Monday, taking a 6-1, 6-2 defeat to Estonia's Anett Kontaveit.
Tauson serves notice in Alexandrova stunner
Danish teenager Clara Tauson has been hard at work since falling in Australian Open qualifying at the start of the 2021 season. The former junior prodigy, who stunned Jennifer Brady at Roland Garros last fall, played a slew of ITF Pro Circuit tournaments, winning two in the lead-up to a 6-3, 6-4 win over top seed Ekaterina Alexandrova in Lyon.
Alexandrova had enjoyed an equally impressive start to the season, reaching the Gippsland Trophy semifinals with back-to-back wins over Iga Swiatek and Simona Halep, and the third round of the Australian Open.
On an indoor surface that should have suited the Russian’s power game, Alexandrova instead found herself on the back foot against Tauson, who won 65 percent of her second serve points.
The world No. 33 nonetheless employed some late heroics, saving six match points before Tauson clinched her seventh to score her second straight Top 50 win.