A pair of former World No.1 players and two-time Grand Slam champions will face off in the Qatar Total Open semifinals, as Victoria Azarenka and Garbiñe Muguruza moved into the final four with straight-set victories.
Azarenka maintained her undefeated record against Elina Svitolina, as the two-time Doha champion ousted this week’s top seed 6-2, 6-4 to reach the semifinals.
Muguruza, the 2018 Doha runner-up, defeated Maria Sakkari 6-3, 6-1 in Thursday's nightcap to complete the semifinal lineup and queue up a showdown with Azarenka.
No.8 seed Azarenka improved to 4-0 against Svitolina with her 85-minute victory, which propels her into the 60th WTA semifinal of her career.
In her first match against a Top 20 opponent this season, Azarenka pushed past persistent pain and medical treatment from the trainer to fire 25 winners, more than double the amount from Svitolina.
“I really just tried to focus on what I could do, and not think about anything else, and try to find solutions and use every opportunity I had to play,” Azarenka said on court in her post-match interview.
“I just tried to play point by point and not think about the score, how long it’s going to take to play, if it’s going to be two sets or three sets,” Azarenka added. “I’m really proud of the way I handled it mentally and how I approached this match.”
Azarenka broke Svitolina in the first game of the match but took her first medical time-out to have her back evaluated during the second game. The two-time major champion would end up dropping that game, but still had enough zip on her returns to break Svitolina in the top seed’s next two service games and build a 4-1 lead.
Additional treatment from the trainer followed after that game, but Azarenka still maintained her solid form, holding her serve twice more to pick up the one-set lead. Azarenka won three-quarters of points off of Svitolina’s second serve in the opening frame.
Azarenka broke Svitolina three times en route to a 5-2 lead in the second set, but she did not serve out the match in that game, and failed to convert two match points on Svitolina's serve at 5-3. Nevertheless, serving for the match for a second time at 5-4, Azarenka got it done on her third match point with a backhand winner.
Muguruza avenged a loss to Sakkari in their only previous meeting, which came earlier this season in Abu Dhabi. There, Sakkari was the victor in straight sets, but under the lights in Doha, Muguruza required just over an hour to reach the semifinals for the second time in her six successive showings at the event.
"Probably when I had the opportunity, I took it," Muguruza said in her post-match press conference. "I just went for the point and converted those break points and could close the match when I had the moment for it.
"I think that's being efficient. Sometimes you try your best and it doesn't go your way. But today I felt like everything was going well."
The highest-ranked unseeded player in the field this week, Muguruza converted five of her 12 break points and fired 14 winners, double the amount of her unforced errors.
An early break by Muguruza was nullified when Sakkari broke back to level the opening set at 3-3, but that would prove to be the only break point Sakkari would generate all day.
Strong depth of return by Muguruza helped her immediately reclaim her break at 4-3, and the former World No.1 repeated the feat as she broke the Greek once more to take the one-set lead.
Muguruza started the second set thunderously, holding serve easily with an ace, then charged through the remainder of the match, breaking Sakkari twice more to sweep to victory.
All told, Muguruza was stupendous on serve, getting 79 percent of her first serves into play, and winning 80 percent of the points when she did so.