There will be a brand new Qatar TotalEnergies Open champion after the last two former titlists in the draw fell in the second round.
No.4 seed Coco Gauff opened her campaign with an efficient 6-3, 7-6(6) win over two-time champion Petra Kvitova, and No.7 seed Belinda Bencic overturned a 6-1, 4-1 deficit to take out Victoria Azarenka 1-6, 7-6(4), 6-4.
However, Bencic withdrew from the event later on Wednesday, due to fatigue. Her quarterfinal opponent, World No.1 Iga Swiatek, receives a walkover into the semifinals.
Kicking off her campaign in Doha with a win 🙌— wta (@WTA) February 15, 2023
No.4 seed @CocoGauff takes out Kvitova, 6-3, 7-6(6)!#QatarTennis pic.twitter.com/i2IqYFPoru
Gauff returns to the Doha quarterfinals for the second straight year. The 18-year-old American opened 2023 by winning her third career title in Auckland, and her season record so far is now 9-1.
Keys to the match: The first-time encounter hinged, unsurprisingly, on the first serve. Both players won over 70% of the points behind their first deliveries, and consequently racked up a series of straightforward holds.
That meant that a handful of key moments decided the result. Gauff and Kvitova only faced one break point each. Gauff converted hers to lead 5-3 in the first set as Kvitova sent a forehand wide, the culmination of a poor service game that had already featured two double faults from the Czech.
Kvitova brought up her sole opportunity early in the second set after pulling off a spectacular pass -- only for Gauff to quickly snuff it out with an ace.
Past the first shot, Kvitova played with a good deal more aggressive intent. The champion here in 2018 and 2021, she racked up 21 winners, including a pair of breathtaking forehands in the second-set tiebreak. By contrast, Gauff managed only four winners off the ground, tallying 11 in total thanks to seven aces.
But Kvitova was undone by 31 unforced errors to Gauff's 14, and in a tightly contested tiebreak the teenager's footspeed enabled her to steal a handful of key points to get over the line after 1 hour and 24 minutes.
Gauff on the challenges of playing Kvitova: "I felt like I have watched her for a long time, and it was weird playing her in that respect, because it's like almost meeting a celebrity in a way.
"[I had to just] accept when she hits a winner. There were points that I thought I played well, and she just came up with a good shot. She hit an amazing down-the-line forehand, and I thought I had a pretty good backhand -- not a winner, but enough to get her on defense. It clearly wasn't enough.
"The only thing you can do is clap your hands and keep on moving. I think for me, playing her, I just tried to focus on my end of the court and let her hit her winners or not and try to be aggressive when I could.
"I honestly didn't have a lot of chances today. I think I definitely won more points on the defense."
What's next for Gauff: Another first-time encounter in the last eight. Gauff will face No.8 seed Veronika Kudermetova, who reached her fourth quarterfinal of the season with a 6-2, 7-5 defeat of former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.
Highlights: Kudermetova d. Kenin
No.11-ranked Kudermetova had lost her only previous encounter with Kenin 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 in the first round of the 2019 Australian Open.
🙌 Relief 🙌@BelindaBencic bounces back from a set down over Azarenka!#QatarTennis pic.twitter.com/pUPTd2CIvR— wta (@WTA) February 15, 2023
Bencic extends winning streak with comeback victory
Like Gauff, Bencic also booked her place in the Doha quarterfinals for the second time, having previously reached that stage in 2020. The Swiss player has won her last six matches including her title last week in Abu Dhabi, and her season record is 14-2.
Bencic's run was on the brink of being snapped by two-time Doha champion Azarenka, though. The World No.17, who reached the Australian Open semifinals last month, played a superb set-and-a-half to advance to a 6-1, 4-1 lead with a double break in the second set.
Highlights: Bencic d. Azarenka
With both players seeking to take the ball early, high-octane rallies characterised the opening set -- and despite the scoreline, Bencic won her fair share of them. But it was Azarenka who rose to the occasion on every big point, capturing three deuce games to dominate the scoreboard.
But Bencic started her comeback with a fine backhand winner into the corner to break back for 4-2, and the quality of her ball-striking began to translate into winning games. Towards the end of the second set, Azarenka started to miss by inches the balls she had made for winners in the first set, and Bencic kept her momentum with an immediate break in the decider.
Though Azarenka battled hard to keep the third set close, Bencic's much-improved serving enabled her to maintain her lead without facing a break point for the rest of the match.
Bencic eventually closed the win out after 2 hours and 42 minutes, but later in the day, she withdrew from her prospective match against top seed Swiatek, sending the World No.1 directly into the final four.