DOHA, Qatar - Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki survived a topsy-turvy opening set to dismiss Monica Niculescu, 7-5, 6-1, reach the quarterfinals of the Qatar Total Open, and win round one of the battle for World No.1 this week against rival Simona Halep.
"Normally, with the game that she plays, its obviously very interesting," Wozniacki said after extending her head-to-head advantage to 9-0 over Niculescu. "It can be a really great competition. She tries to get into your head, and that's when you start getting annoyed and making mistakes. That's no fun, but her game is really entertaining and it can be fun to play her."
Halep threw down the gauntlet earlier in the day by knocking out Anastasija Sevastova, and can still wrest the No.1 ranking from Wozniacki should she advance one round further this week in Doha. With the pressure on, Wozniacki took on Halep's countrywoman and sometime doubles partner Niculescu, who kicked off the week with a stunning win over former No.1 Maria Sharapova.
Wozniacki had dropped just one set to Niculescu in eight previous meetings, but their most recent encounter had gone the distance at last spring's Mutua Madrid Open.
Racing out to a 4-1 lead, Wozniacki suddenly found herself on the receiving end of the crafty veteran's spins and slices, losing four straight games and becoming visibly frustrated as events unfolded on Centre Court. The Dane dug in her heels from there, however, and lost just one more game in the 90 minute match.
"The fans are amazing. Whether they're cheering for me or Monica, today was really fun and it was a great atmosphere."
Showing the amped up aggression that helped her outlast Halep and win her maiden major title in Melbourne, the reigning WTA Finals champion struck 28 winners to 18 unforced errors, converting six of nine break point opportunities to serve out her spot in the last eight.
Standing between Wozniacki and the semifinals is the winner of a highly-anticipated match-up as former World No.1 Angelique Kerber recovered from a set down to defear British No.1 Johanna Konta, 1-6, 6-1, 6-3. Kerber is in the midst of a career resurgence after a tough 2017, winning the Apia International Sydney and roaring into the semifinals of the Australian Open.
"Both great players," Wozniacki said. "Obviously Angie has great defense, great movement. And she gets some really good angles. And it's going to be tough with a lot of long rallies."