DUBAI, UAE - The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships hasn't just attracted the world's top singles players, but also the world's best doubles players - and it's down to the final four teams at the Premier-level tournament.
The first quarterfinal took place on Wednesday, with No.1 seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond winning seven straight games from 2-3 in the first set to take complete command of their match against Anabel Medina Garrigues and Alicja Rosolska, eventually putting the Spanish-Polish pair away, 63 63.
Huber and Raymond are going for their third Premier-level title in a row, having just won Paris [Indoors] and Doha the last two weeks. The Americans have now won nine matches in a row, their second-longest winning streak since first pairing up last April in Charleston. Their longest winning streak is 12.
The other three quarterfinals all took place on Thursday, with No.2 seeds Sania Mirza and Elena Vesnina beating María José Martínez Sánchez and Shahar Peer, 61 46 108; No.4 seeds Nuria Llagostera Vives and Anastasia Rodionova needing five match points to close out Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears, 63 26 1210; and Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai regrouping to beat Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, 63 26 105.
Like Huber and Raymond, Mirza and Vesnina joined forces for the first time just last year, during this very Middle Eastern swing in February - they already have two titles to their name, at Premier-level events at Indian Wells and Charleston, and already have one Grand Slam final together, at the French Open last year (finishing runners-up to Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka).
This year is a different kind of year, and though Mirza has had excellent results in singles in her career, she has another game in focus this season.
"Because this is the Olympic year the priority is to get into the Olympics," Mirza said. "Unfortunately I had surgery right after US Open, because of which four months I missed tournaments. It was tough, and I was losing a lot of points in my singles. So I have to be realistic. Right now my body is not in a condition to really handle playing both singles and doubles, week in and week out.
"I want to focus more on doubles this year, at least until the Olympics. Obviously after that I can come back and focus back on my singles again.
"I think we have a really good shot at a medal for mixed doubles."
Mirza still has high hopes for her singles career, though. In Dubai she was in the qualifying draw, falling to Aleksandra Wozniak - Wozniak eventually qualified for the main draw and held a 5-3 third set lead against World No.6 Agnieszka Radwanska before falling. Radwanska is now in the semis of the main draw.
"No.30 in the world was the top seed in qualies, so this is not really a normal qualifying event. It's almost like playing another WTA, a mini-WTA, before coming into the event. The cut-off was ridiculous. These two tournaments, Doha and Dubai, are two of the toughest weeks of the year. So even to qualify you're playing players who are Top 100 in the world. It's obviously not easy.
"There's so much depth in women's tennis today. People always complain that women's tennis doesn't have a rivalry, but I think that's the beauty of women's tennis - a person who is not ranked, or ranked No.500 or No.600, comes and beats a girl who is No.33. Everyone can hit the ball and everyone can play tennis. It's not like before, when you could go on court and take it for granted.
"You have to have your A-game on all the time, otherwise you lose."