Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka maintained a clean slate over top seed and her doubles partner this week Elina Svitolina to enter her 60th career WTA semi-final at the Qatar Total Open on Thursday.
With the victory she also set up a faceoff with the 2018 Doha runner-up Garbine Muguruza, who defeated Maria Sakkari 6-3, 6-1 in yesterday’s last match to complete the semifinal lineup.
In her first match against a Top 20 opponent this season, Azarenka played through persistent pain and medical attention to fire 25 winners, more than double the amount from Svitolina.
"In the warm-up, I just felt a very sharp pain and I was very worried. I tried my best. I really tried to just focus on what I could do, and not think about anything else, and try to find solutions and use every opportunity I had to play,” Azarenka said.
“I just tried to play point by point and not think about the score, how long it’s going to take to play, if it’s going to be two sets or three sets,” Azarenka added. “I’m really proud of the way I handled it mentally and how I approached this match.”
Azarenka broke Svitolina in the first game of the match but took her first medical time-out to have her back evaluated during the second game. The two-time major champion would end up dropping that game, but still had enough zip on her returns to break Svitolina in the top seed’s next two service games and build a 4-1 lead.
Additional treatment from the trainer followed after that game, but Azarenka still maintained her solid form, holding her serve twice more to pick up the one-set lead. Azarenka won three-quarters of points off of Svitolina’s second serve in the opening frame.
Azarenka broke Svitolina three times en route to a 5-2 lead in the second set, but she did not serve out the match in that game, and failed to convert two match points on Svitolina’s serve at 5-3. Nevertheless, serving for the match for a second time at 5-4, Azarenka got it done on her third match point with a backhand winner.
Muguruza avenged a loss to Sakkari in their only previous meeting, which came earlier this season in Abu Dhabi. There, Sakkari emerged winner in straight sets, but former No. 1 required just over an hour to reach the semifinals for the second time in her six successive appearances at the event.
The highest-ranked unseeded player in the field this week, Muguruza converted five of her 12 breakpoints and fired 14 winners, double the amount of her unforced errors.
An early break by Muguruza was nullified when Sakkari broke back to level the opening set at 3-3, but that would prove to be the only break point Sakkari would generate all day.
Strong depth of return by Muguruza helped her immediately reclaim her break at 4-3, and the former World No.1 repeated the feat as she broke the Greek once more to take the one-set lead.
Muguruza started the second set thunderously, holding serve easily with an ace, then charged through the remainder of the match, breaking Sakkari twice more to sweep to victory.
All told, Muguruza was stupendous on serve, getting 79 percent of her first serves into play, and winning 80 percent of the points when she did so.
Muguruza, who had less than 24-hour to recover after last night’s three-set match against the defending champion Sabalenka, was happy to close the match in two sets.
“It’s true that we had a tough match and I had less time to recover, but, you know, this is also what we try to work on. There is never really an easy match. So you have to be prepared to have a tough match and then the next day be able to play another tough match. I am happy that today I was a little bit more efficient in the important moments and I could close the match in two sets,” the former World No. 1 said.