WUHAN, China - It was always going to be a big week for Raquel Atawo and Abigail Spears. The Americans qualified for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global last year, and earned an important victory as they aim to return, knocking out Julia Goerges and Karolina Pliskova, 6-3, 2-6, 10-8, in the second round of the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open.
"We've probably played at least a thousand 10-point tie-breaks," Atawo said after the match. "They never get any easier, but if you can find a way to relax, it can help in the big points. We were able to do that today, where we were able to hit the shots when we wanted to in the important moments."
Recovering from losing the second set, the unseeded Americans triumphed in the match tie-break to book a last-eight encounter with either Chan Hao-Ching and Chan Yung-Jan (ranked No.6 on the RTS leaderboard) or Slovenians Katarina Srebotnik and Andreja Klepac, who are ranked No.13.
"If we could make them play, we felt like we were in control," Atawo said. "We just had to get that first ball in, and when we connected, it was really good."
Atawo and Spears entered the week at No.10 on the Road to Singapore leaderboard, and have had to overcome tremendous fierce opposition just to reach the second round, defeating No.9 Xu Yi-Fan and Zheng Saisai.
"It's huge motivation, because we've been close the last three years, and it's good experience. But we want to be back in Singapore, and we'll do whatever it takes to get back there - so long as it's legal!" Spears said as the pair laughed.
With today's results, Atawo and Spears move into the No.9 spot and now trail Georges/Pliskova by just 575 points; to crack the Top 8 in Wuhan, they will need to win the title, thus unseating Goerges and Pliskova on the Road to Singapore leaderboard.
Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka moved up to No.5 on the Road to Singapore leaderboard after winning the Coupe Banque Nationale, and kicked off their Wuhan campaign in similarly dramatic style; the Czechs ousted Olga Savchuk and Wang Yafan, 4-6, 6-2, 10-4.
On the outside looking in - at least with new partner Barbora Strycova - is World No.1 Sania Mirza. Mirza has already qualified for Singapore with former Co-No.1 Martina HIngis, but has been making a strong push for a second qualification bid, winning a second title with Strycova at the Toray Pan Pacific Open.