Jabeur ousts former champ Pliskova, Kvitova advances
February 27 2020 12:17 AM
Ons Jabeur
Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, watched by her fans (below), in action against Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic. PICTURE: Noushad Thekkayil


Rising Tunisian star Ons Jabeur scored the biggest win of her breakthrough 2020 season at the Qatar Total Open, knocking out former World No 1 and 2017 champion Karolina Pliskova in three gruelling sets at the Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex yesterday.
 Jabeur won 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to book her spot in the quarter-finals.
Jabeur narrowly lost to reigning Wimbledon winner Simona Halep just last week at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, but held firm even as she appeared to struggle physically at the finish line, serving out the Centre Court upset — her biggest win by ranking — after one hour and 47 minutes.
The Tunisian was already in the midst of a breakthrough year after reaching her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open — where she fell to eventual champion Sofia Kenin — and is backing that result up with some style in Doha, making it into the third round without dropping a set. 
Still, she hadn’t beaten a Top 10 player since 2018, when she shocked Sloane Stephens in straight sets en route to the Kremlin Cup final.
Seeded No 3 in Doha, Pliskova was aiming to recalibrate after suffering a third round defeat in Melbourne. She appeared in fine form on Tuesday when she breezed past Bernarda Pera. With her unique style and audacious shotmaking, Jabeur was going to always pose a threat to the 2016 US Open finalist, who won their last meeting in three sets last summer in Flushing Meadows.
Earlier, Former champion Petra Kvitova needed all her considerable experience to beat Latvian Jelena Ostapenko 6-2 5-7 6-1 and reach the quarter-finals on a windy day.
The Czech number eight seed, who won the Qatar title in 2018, looked on course for a routine victory after running away with the first set, but former French Open champion Ostapenko clawed her way back into the contest with some gutsy hitting from behind the baseline.
The 22-year-old, who rivals twice-Wimbledon champion Kvitova in terms of sheer power, improved her first serve percentage from 52% to 73% in the second set and converted four of her six break point chances to level the match.
Kvitova had been taken the distance in her second-round outing with Carla Suárez Navarro and would have hoped that after taking the first set courtesy of winning six successive games she would not be so extended once more. Ostapenko, though, found her range to force a decider, which was comprehensively claimed by the higher-ranked player. “There’s no chance to have tactics in this wind. I lost to her in our last match, so I knew what to expect,” she said. “The wind changes everything. It’s difficult to put the serve in and she returned the second serve well. It was difficult from the first point.
“I needed to be more patient, for sure. It’s about taking time. It’s really difficult.”
Meanwhile, Belinda Bencic has qualified for the quarterfinals of the Qatar Total Open for the first time, with the No.4 seed overcoming Yulia Putintseva, 6-4, 6-3. The Swiss came into this match trailing her Kazak opponent 3-1 in terms of their career head-to-head but was the dominant force throughout this match, leading from the start and reaching her third quarterfinal of the year after Adelaide and St Petersburg in one hour 30 minutes. She struck out into a healthy early advantage and saw off the Putintseva comeback then made a similarly quick start to the second set to ensure her passage through. Bencic had spent more than two and a half hours on court dismissing Veronika Kudermetova in a lengthy three set duel in the previous round but showed few signs of rust as she moved confidently into a 5-2 lead.
An early break aided her cause, while Putintseva, who gifted that advantage to her opponent courtesy of a double fault, failed to reprise the form that she had shown in overcoming Elise Mertens, the No 16 seed.
The WTA World No 32 is noted for her fighting spirit, which was evident as she set about closing the deficit, but after getting the set back on serve, the constant pressure emanating from Bencic’s racquet proved too much as the 22-year-old broke to seal the set after an engrossing game.
A similarly strong start to the second put Bencic firmly in command of the match, breaking courtesy of some neat courtcraft that saw her work the 25-year-old smartly around the court.Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova also advanced via a walkover after her American opponent Amanda Anisimova withdrew due to illness. Kuznetsova will next face Swiss world number nine Bencic, the fourth seed, who beat Kazakhstan’s Putintseva 6-4 6-3 earlier in the day.

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