A handful of Top 10 players started their campaigns at the Qatar TotalEnergies Open on Tuesday, with World No.7 Maria Sakkari, World No.8 Daria Kasatkina and World No.9 Belinda Bencic taking home first-round victories.
The remaining Top 10 players in the field -- World No.1 Iga Swiatek, No.4 Jessica Pegula, No.5 Caroline Garcia and No.6 Coco Gauff -- have byes into the second round as the Top 4 seeds, and will play their first matches on Wednesday.
On Center Court, No.5 seed Sakkari of Greece battled past 24th-ranked Zheng Qinwen of China 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in 2 hours and 9 minutes to book her spot in the second round.
Determination 😤@mariasakkari gets the win over Zheng in a thrilling three-set match!#QatarTennis pic.twitter.com/ZPoa5iYsBT— wta (@WTA) February 14, 2023
Sakkari won their previous meeting in straight sets at the 2022 Australian Open, but this time she had a more difficult test against last season's WTA Newcomer of the Year Zheng.
Zheng's 28 winners doubled Sakkari's 14, but the Greek was more effective on return and found more chances to break the Zheng serve, going 4-for-7 on break points. Zheng converted only two of five break chances.
Sakkari had to fend off a second-set comeback by Zheng, epitomized by one of the outstanding points of this season so far, a winning Zheng tweener at the end of an all-court rally:
Tweener 🤝 QWEENER!#QatarTennis pic.twitter.com/5utKakfFiv— wta (@WTA) February 14, 2023
However, Sakkari rebounded, earning a pivotal break point at 2-1 in the third set with an error-forcing dropshot. Zheng double faulted on the next point to drop serve, and Sakkari eased home from there, lining up a second-round match against 18th-ranked Ekaterina Alexandrova.
Earlier on Center Court, Bencic of Switzerland pulled off a 6-0, 6-1 dismissal of Bulgarian qualifier Viktoriya Tomova.
No.7 seed Bencic needed just 58 minutes to claim her fifth straight match-win, just two days after she saved three championship points to capture her eighth career singles title, and second title of the year, in Abu Dhabi.
The victory marks Bencic's 13th match-win of the season, which leads all players on the Hologic WTA Tour. Bencic has only lost two matches thus far in 2023, to World No.1 Iga Swiatek at United Cup and eventual champion Aryna Sabalenka at the Australian Open.
Bencic swept to her third win in three meetings with Tomova, currently ranked World No.100. Bencic saved all three break points she faced and won 89 percent of Tomova's second-service points (16 of 18). Tomova falls to 0-6 against Top 10 players.
Bencic will now take on former World No.1 and two-time Doha champion Victoria Azarenka in the second round. Azarenka has won both of their previous meetings, but this will be their first encounter since 2019.
Finally, in the Center Court late-night match, No.6 seed Kasatkina overcame Canadian qualifier Rebecca Marino 7-6(5), 6-2 in 1 hour and 41 minutes.
Power player Marino prevented Kasatkina from hitting a single winner in a 65-minute first set, but Kasatkina was persistent, coming back from 4-1 down in the tiebreak to grit out the one-set lead.
Five of the first six games in the second set went against serve, but Kasatkina's heavy forehands kept her in front for the majority of the set, and she grinded out the victory, converting her fourth match point in a lengthy final game.
Awaiting Kasatkina in the second round is a player ranked just outside the Top 10: World No.12 Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil. Haddad Maia defeated another Top 20 player, Paula Badosa, in the first round by the scoreline of 7-6(6), 6-3.