Qualifier Jessica Pegula continued her giant-killing act by beating the second top-10 player in a fortnight to earn her biggest semi-final of her career in Doha on Thursday.
At the Khalifa Interntional Tennis and Squash Complex, the American needed just 57 minutes to upset No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 6-1 to reach the last four stage at Qatar Total Open.
Pegula, a quarterfinalist at the Western & Southern Open last year and the Australian Open a month ago, now has a 20-7 record since the Tour resumption.
Striking 20 winners to just seven unforced errors, the 27-year-old showcased a fine all-court game to take down 2017 champion Pliskova in their first-ever encounter and for her sixth straight win, including the qualifiers here.
Pegula, who conquered fifth-ranked Elina Svitolina en route to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open, has momentum in her favour and she is ready to carry it forward.
“I would definitely say my fitness, staying healthy, has really helped me mentally knowing that I feel good pretty much every match, knowing that I don’t have to be too concerned about injuries or anything like that. So I think that has definitely been the biggest factor, you know, to start the year,” Pegula said after the win yesterday.
Pegula took control of the match from world go, aiming her returns deep and at Pliskova’s feet. Pegula took full advantage of the Czech, who had battled past midnight the previous day to edge Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur in three sets as she lacked sharp movement and intensity.
The American has dropped just one set this week, and rarely looked like doing so again yesterday. Finishing points in the forecourt efficiently, Pegula saved the only break point she faced in the first set and sealed her second set point with another baseline return.
Pliskova briefly rejuvenated her tennis to break Pegula at the start of the second set, but it was short-lived.
Pegula nearly slumped in Doha qualifying. On the brink of elimination, Pegula battled 19-year-old Russian Anastasia Potapova 6-2, 6-7(3), 7-6(6). Since that tough test in qualifying, Pegula has unleashed her aggression roaring through eight straight sets into a showdown against Pliskova.
“Definitely a confidence builder. I had a really tough match in my second-round quallies against Potapova, and honestly, I probably should have lost,” she said.
“I think after that match I decided to just use that confidence to scrape out that match to play really aggressive and step in and just go for my shots. So I actually think that match, second-round quallies, really helped me to this point and why I'm playing pretty well right now,” added Pegula, who defeated former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 7-5 in the previous round.
Pegula will take on former champion Petra Kvitova, who survived Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 in the first match of the day.
Both players have been in top form this week, reaching the quarterfinals without dropping more than five games in any match, and were able to bring that level against each other. But overall, it was Kvitova who landed the most lethal blows at the right times, tallying 31 winners to 24 unforced errors.
The Czech raced out of the blocks, taking a 5-1 lead in just 19 minutes after a brilliant purple patch of play. Kontaveit never backed down, even if too late to save the first set, but was useful in terms of flipping the dynamic to dominate the second set.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova, a winner here in 2018 and runner-up to Aryna Sabalenka last year, displayed real grit to seize hold of the deciding set.