DOHA, Qatar - Elena Rybakina and Belinda Bencic were both pushed to the brink before coming out on top at the Qatar Total Open. Rybakina saved a match point to knock out big-hitting Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck, 5-7, 6-2, 7-6(8), while Bencic shook off missing an earlier match point of her own before defeating Veronika Kudermetova, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(4).
Despite the win, Rybakina was ultimately forced to withdraw from her third round match, handing top seed Ashleigh Barty a walkover after citing an abductor strain.
"I’m really sorry but I have to withdraw from Doha," she said in a statement. "I have a small strain in my leg and I don’t want to risk it getting worst. I will definitely be back next year, thank you for your support!"
Seeded No.4 in Doha, Bencic was the first through against Kudermetova, a fellow 22-year-old who has won her share of dramatic matches against Dayana Yastremska and Yulia Putintseva at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy, respectively.
Ranked at her current career-high of World No.38, she was looking to reprise her wins over the 2019 US Open semifinalist that she earned last year at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy and at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open. Bencic remained rock steady in the final set tie-break to ultimately advance in exactly two hours and 38 minutes on Court 1.
Kudermetova put on an impressive performance, particularly on serve with 13 aces - seven of which coming in the final set - and broke early in the second set after losing the first. Bencic broke back late as she looked to sweep the match in straight sets, but the Russian was undeterred, breaking once more to force a decider.
Down a break once more, Bencic turned the tables on Kudermetova and earned her first match point in the tenth game. Kudermetova gamely saved it and forced the issue in the following game, earning four break points on the Bencic serve that would seen her serving for the match.
Bencic saved them all and forced her way to a tie-break, one that she ultimately dominated after splitting the first six points. Her third match point put her over the finish line and booked a third round meeting with Yulia Putintseva, who dethroned defending champion Elise Mertens in three sets earlier in the day.
After stealing the show on Centre Court in her first round against Romanian wildcard Sorana Cirstea, Rybakina was in for another tough one against Van Uytvanck, who pushed Petra Kvitova to three sets in St. Petersburg two weeks ago. Playing out on Court 2, the on-fire Kazakh needed five match points to put away the Belgian in two hours and 21 minutes, clinching the win with a searing forehand winner.
As she had against Cirstea, Rybakina fell behind a set after a tense first 10 games saw no breaks of serve. Van Uytvanck struck first and put herself six games from the upset. The No.14 seed responded in what has fast become typical fashion, leveling the match behind some decisive aggression. Rallying from a break down in the decider, she was first to match point at 5-4, forcing the Belgian to save two on her own serve. The ensuing Sudden Death was a dramatic affair; Rybakina had two more match points - losing one on a double fault - before Van Uytvanck earned one of her own that narrowly failed to convert. Seeing herself a point from defeat stirred the St. Petersburg and Dubai runner-up, as she ran through the final three points of the contest to win.