The Qatar Total Open started Monday with two-time champion Victoria Azarenka and former finalists Jelena Ostapenko, Garbiñe Muguruza and Angelique Kerber all prevailing in their opening-round matches.
In the nightcap match, No.8 seed Azarenka ousted two-time runner-up Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-2, 6-3, to book her spot in the second round in Qatar.
Azarenka, who won back-to-back titles in Doha in 2012 and 2013, improved her head-to-head record against Kuznetsova to 6-4 with her one-hour and 42-minute victory. It was the first meeting between the two-time Grand Slam champions since their showdown in the 2016 Miami Open final, won by Azarenka.
Azarenka converted three of her four break points in the opening frame, which, at 44 minutes, was lengthier than the scoreline suggests. Kuznetsova nearly matched Azarenka in winners in the opener, but had five more unforced errors.
A two-game stretch in the second set was pivotal: Azarenka's solid returning earned her a break for 3-2, and she fought off five break points in a protracted game to hold for 4-2 and maintain her advantage.
Azarenka missed three match points when serving for the match at 6-2, 5-2, but garnered the victory in the next game, converting her sixth match point to break for the win.
Ostapenko, who was the Doha runner-up in her tournament debut in 2016, eased past No.5 seed Kiki Bertens 6-0, 6-2.
The 2017 Roland Garros champion, Ostapenko put on a command performance against Bertens, collecting her 21st career win against a Top 20 opponent.
Ostapenko, who reached the second WTA singles final of her career in Doha five years ago, hit 26 winners to 19 unforced errors, a sturdy ratio for her aggressive style of play.
Bertens was playing in her first match since having Achilles surgery at the end of 2020, a gap of five months in her play. The former World No.4 kept her first-serve percentage solid but her powerful play resulted in only six winners on the day.
Ostapenko zipped through the first set and pulled away in the second thanks to some cracking forehands for a 5-1 lead.
Bertens, though, converted her first break-point opportunity to thwart Ostapenko's first chance to serve out the match. But Ostapenko took control in the next game, slamming a crosscourt backhand winner to complete the match in just 53 minutes.
Former World No.1 Muguruza also came up with a straight-sets win, ousting Veronika Kudermetova, 6-2, 7-6(4). Muguruza, making her sixth straight appearance in the Doha main draw, reached the final in 2018.
The Spaniard has been defeated by only Top 30 players thus far in 2021. The two-time major champion kept that streak going with a 1-hour, 45-minute win against World No.34 Kudermetova.
In the second set, Kudermetova prevented Muguruza from serving out the match at both 5-4 and 6-5. Muguruza stayed steely in the tiebreak, finding strong drive volleys when it counted to push her through to the second round.
"Veronika was a very tough opponent," Muguruza said in her post-match press conference. "Just happy with this win. We played a year ago, and I remember it was a tough match. Happy to have closed it in two sets."
With her win, Muguruza sets up an intriguing second-round affair against No.3 seed and defending champion Aryna Sabalenka.
"I think [Sabalenka is] playing great," Muguruza said. "Last year and this year I saw she's winning titles and playing good tennis. I'm excited to face these top players."
Also in Monday's first round, Anett Kontaveit knocked off a seeded player with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over No.7 seed Jennifer Brady, the 2021 Australian Open runner-up.
Kontaveit started the match with a bang, hitting three clean return winners in Brady’s first service game. World No.24 Kontaveit continued on that path, breaking Brady three times while never facing a break point.
Kontaveit hit 17 winners to just nine unforced errors as the Estonian claimed her first Top 20 win of the season in just 53 minutes.
Next up for Kontaveit will be former World No.1 Angelique Kerber. The three-time major champion Kerber got her Doha campaign kicked off with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Cagla Buyukakcay.
Kerber is another former finalist at Doha. She reached the championship match in 2014. Kerber had to charge back from a 1-4 deficit in the opening set before stopping the Turkish wildcard.
Maria Sakkari also advanced into the second round, defeating Mayar Sherif, 6-0, 6-3.