Simona Halep and Angelique Kerber were thoroughly tested yesterday before they joined Elina Svitolina in the semi-finals on a day which saw the leading seeds restore order at the withdrawal-hit Qatar Total Open.
Halep, the top seed from Romania and world No. 3, huffed and puffed past Germany’s Julia Goerges, needing tie-breakers in both sets to stay on course for her second title in Doha, while third seed Kerber was taken the full distance by the Czech Republic’s Barbora Strycova.
Svitolina, the Australian Open quarter-finalist last month and fourth seed here, had a relatively easy outing, sending qualifier Karolina Muchova packing in straight sets.
With World No. 5 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic pulling out on Tuesday due to a suspected viral fever to add to the withdrawals of World No. 1 Naomi Osaka and World No. 2 Petra Kvitova even before the event began, yesterday’s results came as a welcome relief for the organisers.
“I am really happy to have won. She has a big serve and forehand and when she gets the time she hits it very strong,” Halep, the 2014 champion, said courtside after her 7-6(1), 7-6(6) win over Goerges.
“I didn’t give up and that’s the reason I could win. I am really proud of my effort.”
Halep considers the Qatar tournament one of her favourites, a factor that kept her motivated.
“I enjoy playing in Doha, so I didn’t want to leave! Thanks to all the fans who came in support. It’s always a nice atmosphere here and I want to thank Doha because you are always welcoming me. I feel great here,” she said.
Halep will take on Svitolina today in the last four, something which she was unaware of immediately after her win.
“Oh, that’s a big challenge to play the semis against her. But I will give my all. I really want to win.”
In the first match of the day, wildcard Svitolina of Ukraine had eased past Czech Muchova 6-4, 6-2 into the last-four.
World No. 7 Svitolina was the beneficiary of a lucky draw, having also played a qualifier, Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, in the second round on Wednesday, but now faces a tough ask against Halep.
Halep’s match was yet to start when Svitolina was addressing the media after her win, and inevitably she was asked about her chances against the Romanian.
“It’s going to be a definitely good match,” Svitolina said. “We always have some tough matches in the past, so we are both playing, you know, maybe similar game. Lots of long rallies, I’m going to expect that. So, yeah, it’s going to be another good match, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Svitolina, who reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open last month before being ousted by eventual winner Osaka, was clearly the superior player yesterday. She broke Muchova two times in each set and held 11 break points throughout the match.
Muchova had progressed to the quarter-finals of a Premier category event for the first time, but 25 unforced errors practically ruined her chances of progressing further.
“Well, I didn’t really know much with her, so I was just trying to focus on what I have to do on my game, you know, on my strength. I had to serve good, had to return, had to move quickly,” said Svitolina.
“So just everything had to be good. In the end, you know, I found a way to beat her. Yeah, I was very happy I could do it in two sets.”
Svitolina, however, also had words of encouragement for Muchova. “Well, she’s a very good player, and I really like her game style. You know, she’s not a typical young player, because most of the players now that are coming up, they are smashing the ball. She has lots of variety in her game, and that’s, I think, very good for tennis.”
Earlier, third seed and World No. 6 Kerber survived a major scare before ousting Strycova, ranked 49th in the world, in three sets, 1-6, 6-2, 7-6(4).
It was the ninth meeting between them, Kerber having won eight, but the 2017 Qatar runner-up, needed two hours and seven minutes to book her spot in the last-four.
Kerber had no answer to the persistent Strycova in the first set, getting stuck in the one-way traffic of the Czech’s serve and volley style.
“We played so many times against each other,” Kerber said.
“Of course it’s not so easy because it’s always tricky to play against her. You never know what to expect, if she is playing serve and volley or just moving, playing fast. But you have to be ready for every single moment and playing every single point, because every single point is different, especially against her.
“In the second set, I was just trying to coming back to playing point by point and trying to making a little bit less mistakes and going for it, staying positive.”
“And the third set it was a few up-and-downs, especially then at the end, a lot of emotions, as well. But I’m happy that I won it at the end. I mean, it was a really close match, and I think just one, two points decided the match.”
The last quarter-final between Elise Mertens of Belgium and fifth seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands was still going on last night at the time of going to press. The winner will take on Kerber in the semis today.
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