Garbiñe Muguruza prevailed in a tight three-set encounter Wednesday night at the Qatar Total Open, eliminating defending champion and No.3 seed Aryna Sabalenka, 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3 to move into the quarterfinals.
Muguruza, the highest-ranked unseeded player in the field at World No.16, earned the hard-fought win in 2 hours and 18 minutes -- the first singles match all week to go three sets. She avenged a loss to Sabalenka in their only previous encounter, at Beijing in 2018.
"I'm very motivated to play top players," Muguruza said in her post-match press conference. "Like everybody, I worked hard. I'm fighting for trophies, to play well in big tournaments, in good tournaments.
"Today I was facing a top player, and I knew I have to go out there with a big, fighting spirit, and [be] strong to be able to win against these tough opponents."
Amazingly, each player had equal winner and unforced error totals in the match: Sabalenka had 41 of each, while Muguruza had 35 of each. Ultimately, Muguruza was more successful when she held break points, converting seven of 17 while Sabalenka went 4-for-13.
For Sabalenka, the loss ended her undefeated record at the event, after winning the title last year in her tournament debut.
Muguruza quickly led 4-0 in the first frame and closed out the set without dropping serve, although she did have to fend off break points in the last game before doing so.
That tricky final game was a precursor to the topsy-turvy second set, where Sabalenka wrested control from Muguruza with big returning to break for 5-3. However, Sabalenka then dropped serve in her next two service games, giving Muguruza a chance to serve for the match at 6-5.
Muguruza was unable to close, and the pair advanced to a pivotal tiebreak. There, Sabalenka also saw a 5-3 lead slip to 5-5, but she earned a set point after a netted backhand by Muguruza. Sabalenka converted that chance with an error-forcing backhand, lining up a decisive final set for the first time all week.
Sabalenka took the early lead in the decider, cracking a backhand winner to go up 3-2. But Muguruza gritted out a re-break with her depth and power in the lengthy following game. Muguruza grabbed all the momentum from that point forward, clinching the final four games to obtain victory.
Pliskova outlasts Jabeur: The second three-set match of the tournament occurred in the late-night match, as No.2 seed Karolina Pliskova survived a stern challenge from Ons Jabeur before winning 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.
Both of their two previous meetings had gone to a decisive third set, and this time would prove to be no different. Pliskova ultimately prevailed to take a 2-1 lead in their head-to-head and avenge a loss to Jabeur at this event just last season.
Although Pliskova converted only 50 percent of her first serves into play, she won three-quarters of those points. She also converted five of her 10 break points and staved off 40 winners from the racquet of Jabeur.
Pliskova let an early break lead slip in the first set, but came through in the final game, using improved mobility to fend off a bevy of Jabeur groundstrokes and break serve to claim the one-set lead.
A 3-0 lead in the second set had Pliskova well on her way to victory before a mix of down-the-line groundstrokes and deft dropshots by Jabeur saw her come charging back. Jabeur won six of the final seven games in the second set, leveling the match.
Pliskova again saw an advantage slip from her grasp in the decider. The Czech led 5-2 and held a match point, but missed a volley to squander the chance. More dropshots by Jabeur pulled her back to 5-5, but Pliskova powered through the final two games to grab the victory after just over two hours of play.
Next up for Pliskova will be a quarterfinal clash with qualifier Jessica Pegula.
Svitolina, Sakkari sweep into quarters: Earlier in the evening, top seed Elina Svitolina and Maria Sakkari reached the quarterfinals with comfortable wins.
Svitolina breezed past lucky loser Misaki Doi, 6-1, 6-2, to reach her third quarterfinal of the season. The World No.5 needed exactly an hour to dispatch the Japanese player, firing 26 winners to just 10 unforced errors to seal victory.
The pair had faced off twice before, at Wimbledon in back-to-back years in 2014 and 2015. Doi had in fact won their 2014 encounter at the grass-court major, but Svitolina was determined not to take another loss to the lucky loser as she quickly charged an early 3-0 lead with solid serving and penetrating backhands.
Svitolina was never troubled on serve in the opener as she romped to the one-set lead behind two breaks of the Doi service.
Doi broke serve for the only time of the day early in the second set, but Svitolina was unfazed as she picked up five of the last six games to set up a quarterfinal clash with former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka.
Sakkari also had a swift day, ousting Madison Keys, 6-2, 6-2 in 68 minutes for a spot in the elite eight.
The Greek star faced only a single break point in the match, which she saved, as she picked up her second win in two meetings with Keys.
Sakkari claimed a superb 77 percent of her second-service points to bolster her service prowess during the match, and she broke Keys four times en route to victory. Sakkari will face Muguruza in the quarterfinals.
Keys was playing her season-opening event this week after a five-month absence from tournament play. Despite her loss to Sakkari, Keys still comes out of the tournament with a Top 20 win after her upset of No.6 seed Belinda Bencic in the opening round on Tuesday.