On a day of second-round action packed with big names at the Qatar Total Open, former champions Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova led the charge into the quarterfinals with straight-sets wins. No.8 seed Azarenka came through 6-4, 6-2 over qualifier Laura Siegemund, before No.4 seed Kvitova bounced Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 6-3.
The clash between Azarenka and Siegemund was a high-quality one in which the Belarusian slowly but surely got to grips with the plethora of shots her opponent threw at her.
Dropshots, return winners and several down-the-line passes on the run all contributed to Siegemund's highlights reel. Over the course of the match, the German would strike 25 winners compared to Azarenka's 15. But from 1-3 down in the first set, Azarenka would display far greater consistency, keeping her unforced error count down to 15 compared to Siegemund's 24.
The opening set hinged on an epic seventh game that featured 12 deuces. Siegemund, having had her opening break lead pegged back to 3-3, was unable to take eight game point opportunities to inch ahead again. Instead, the Roland Garros quarterfinalist double faulted facing a fourth break point, enabling Azarenka to sustain her momentum.
Azarenka, champion in Doha in 2012 and 2013, never relinquished it again. Siegemund's renowned battling qualities were still evident when her back was to the wall. Four times facing set or match point, she came up with a clean winner, and in the second set she briefly threatened a last-minute comeback.
But Siegemund had badly faded at the start of the second set to fall behind 0-5, and the deficit was too great to make up. Azarenka had failed to serve out the win on her first attempt, but made no mistake the second time round and sealed victory with an authoritative hold.
The US Open finalist was joined in the last eight by 2018 Doha champion Kvitova, who was in scorching form in the 13th edition of a rivalry dating back to 2008.
Eight of Kvitova's previous encounters with Pavlyuchenkova had gone the distance, but there was little danger of that today. The Czech fired 31 winners, kept her unforced error count to 19 and posted a 76% first serve percentage. On three of the four break points she faced, she would bail herself out with clutch serving.
The exception was at the start of the second set, but Pavlyuchenkova squandered her advantage as soon as she had it. Leading 3-1, the Russian handed the break back with a pair of double faults, and Kvitova resumed normal service to race through the last five games of the match.
Two former Doha runners-up saw their campaigns end, though. Anett Kontaveit dispatched 2014 finalist Angelique Kerber 6-1, 6-4, dropping serve just once in an otherwise dominant performance. The Estonian now leads her head-to-head against Kerber 4-1.
Meanwhile, Australian Open quarterfinalist Jessica Pegula's rich vein of form continued with a 6-2, 7-5 win over 2016 runner-up Jelena Ostapenko. In a contest of aggressive baseline ballstriking punctuated by the occasional dropshot, the American qualifier was more consistent and better able to rely on her second serve.
Ostapenko's combination of a 56% first serve percentage while winning only 36% of the points behind her second serve was never going to work out well for her. The Latvian wildcard did hit a thrilling purple patch in the second set, threatening a comeback as she reeled off 12 consecutive points from 2-4 down - but it was all too brief. Ostapenko relapsed into error just as suddenly, and Pegula took 12 of the last 14 points to reach her second quarterfinal of the season.