DOHA, Qatar - On a gusty day at the Qatar Total Open, qualifier Anna Blinkova held steady to upset No.7 seed Anastasija Sevastova 7-6(5), 6-4 in one hour and 43 minutes.
Both of the 20-year-old's previous Top 30 wins came in Doha last year, when she defeated Elena Vesnina and Kristina Mladenovic to make the third round, and she added a third - and best by ranking - over World No.12 Sevastova today.
The Latvian had been fresh off a successful Fed Cup World Group II tie at home in Riga, having won both of her rubbers against Slovakia without dropping a set, but struggled with her timing in the desert wind and was broken in the very first game.
The conditions were difficult for both players, but Blinkova - who had defeated former US Open champion Samantha Stosur in the final round of qualifying - appeared more acclimatized to them, demonstrating sharp footwork to deal with the ball's more unexpected movements and keeping calm despite the mounting wind-induced errors.
Wobbles struck the Russian as she attempted to close out the first set, with ill-timed double faults meaning that she was unable to serve it out at either 5-4 or 6-5. Nonetheless, the World No.95 kept her head and began the ensuing tiebreak with some of her finest play of the day - and ultimately it was Sevastova who blinked first, netting consecutive shots to hand the set to her opponent.
With the US Open semifinalist's backhand continuing to break down, Blinkova raised the pressure in the second set, capturing the Sevastova serve for a 4-2 lead. A game away from defeat, Sevastova called a medical time-out and fought back on resumption, the 28-year-old's backhand finally landing some quality shots as she clung on to the match. But despite a sixth double fault once again preventing Blinkova from closing on her own serve, the 2015 Wimbledon junior runner-up sustained her positive tennis to break for the win in the subsequent game, taking her second match point as a Sevastova forehand found the net. Up next for Blinkova is former World No.16 Barbora Strycova.
Earlier, 2016 champion Carla Suárez Navarro proved once again that she has an affinity with the Qatari courts, breaking Tunisian wildcard Ons Jabeur seven times en route to a 6-3, 6-1 win. The Spaniard was twice down a break in the first set, but was particularly sharp on return as she punished Jabeur's second serves. Anett Kontaveit also recovered from a slow start: the Estonian trailed qualifier Zhu Lin 2-5 in the first set, but saved a set point and came through 7-6(3), 6-3 to set up a second-round clash against No.3 seed Angelique Kerber.
Hsieh Su-Wei also brought a successful Fed Cup competitor down to earth with a crash as she routed Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-2, 6-0 in just 59 minutes. The Belarusian had been unbeaten as her team had defeated the Netherlands in their World Group first-round tie at the weekend, but had neither answers nor energy against the Chinese Taipei player. Hsieh's reward will be a second-round clash against either Stosur - in the main draw as a lucky loser - or qualifier Karolina Muchova.
Meanwhile, in a rare match-up between two of the four lucky losers benefiting from a litany of withdrawals, it was Alison Riske who seized her second chance to defeat Polona Hercog 6-4, 6-3. However, Lara Arruabarrena's luck was ended in short order by Lesia Tsurenko: the Spaniard, who had lost in the second round of qualifying to Liudmila Samsonova, was a last-minute replacement for Caroline Garcia - but lasted just one hour and seven minutes as the Ukrainian powered through 6-3, 6-0.