Five Doha Qualifiers to Reach the Main Draw
First up, we are in “Lucky Loser” territory at the Qatar Total Open. At 4:30p Sunday afternoon, Tournament Supervisor Tony Cho released a revised draw…minus Croatia’s Petra Martic. With Petra’s withdrawal, either a Qualifier or a Lucky Loser will get a stab at World #13 Ashleigh Barty.
A huge opportunity.
You see, Barty played Fed Cup versus Team USA in North Carolina over the weekend (8 time zones behind), so she’s scrambling to arrive just in time for her 1st-Rounder Tuesday night. Couple Ashleigh’s jet-lag with 3-days of consistent court time for the Qualifiers or Lucky Loser, and you have two of three main ingredients found in an upset. The third? Whoever draws Barty better play well.
One of Today’s Qualifying Victories was a Career First
-  Ajla Tomljanovic -41- (AUS) def Shuko Aoyama -651- (JPN) | 75 67(6) 64
-  Alison Riske -52- (USA) def Jennifer Brady -120- (USA) | 62 64
-  Sam Stosur -73- (AUS) def Tereza Mrdeza -202- (CRO) | 63 64
-  Polona Hercog -88- (SLO) def Sabina Sharipova -139- (UZB) | 75 75
- Karolina Muchova -133- (CZE) def  Kristyna Pliskova -90- (CZE) | 63 46 64
- Anna Blinkova -95- (RUS) def  Bernarda Pera -82- (USA) | 75 62
- Lin Zhu -108- (CHN) def Madison Brengle -97- (USA) | 61 63
- Liudmila Samsonova -168- (RUS) def Lara Arruabarrena -94- (ESP) | 62 64
✔  Ajla Tomljanovic -41- (AUS) def Shuko Aoyama -651- (JPN) 75 67(6) 64
On the heels of her Finalist run at last week’s Taiwan Open, Ajla Tomljanovic comes into Doha with a career-high ranking of World #41. Thanks to several player withdrawals just days before the tournament (Hey, it’s Fed Cup Weekend!), the top qualifying seed received an opening round BYE – giving her an extra day in Doha to prepare.
Despite the extra preparation, Ajla still got “the yips” during key moments against 31-year-old doubles veteran Shuko Aoyama. In set-2’s tiebreak, Tomljanovic missed on two match points and lost four straight, extending the match to a decider. Frustrated with herself, she went down an early break in the third, but pulled it together when it mattered most.
Now a 4-time Finalist on Tour, Ajla’s ready to make an impact in her Doha debut. A win tomorrow gets her into the main draw. A deep Doha run would rekindle the bombardment of attention received back in 2014, when Tomljanovic upset World #3 Agnieszka Radwanska at Roland Garros to reach the Round of 16 at a Major for the first time.
▲ QR1 BYE
✔  Alison Riske -52- (USA) def Jennifer Brady -120- (USA) 62 64
In Sunday’s all-American clash, the 2-seed from Nashville took-out Harrisburg’s Jennifer Brady.
Allie was on fire week-1 of the season. She won 4 straight in Shenzhen to reach her 7th career WTA Final. After a tough 1st-Round draw at the Australian Open – falling to  Kiki Bertens -09- (NED) 36 36 – Riske is looking to make an impact this week in Doha. With wins over Brady and Anna Kalinskaya, she’s one step away from reaching the main draw in her first Qatar Total Open.
Needless to say, it was a tough loss for Brady – who last week upset Caroline Garcia -19- (FRA) to reach the Round of 16 at the Taiwan Open.
▲ QR1 Alison Riske -52- (USA) def Anna Kalinskaya -144- (RUS) | 62 62
✔  Polona Hercog -88- (SLO) def Sabina Sharipova -139- (UZB) 75 75
Back-to-back wins for Slovenia’s Polona Hercog, who lives here in Doha. Yesterday, she easily dismantled the World #526. Today, she played consistent tennis against Tashkent’s Sabina Sharipova.
In 2018, Polona started the season as the World #100, reached her 5th career Tour-level Final in Istanbul, then went 4-7 before reaching the Semifinals in Bucharest. She climbed as high as World #58, only to drop back to the high 80’s toward the end of the year. Tennis is a heady game.
This year, after three straight losses in Auckland, Hobart and Melbourne, Hercog stepped back into the ITF ring for a Semifinal run in France. The 7-seed is hoping to carry that confidence into Doha’s main draw with a victory tomorrow.
▲ QR1 Polona Hercog -88- (SLO) def [WC] Julia Elbaba -526- (USA) | 61 63
✔  Sam Stosur -73- (AUS) def Tereza Mrdeza -202- (CRO) 63 64
Sam Stosur was a Doha Finalist in 2012. A top-5 player at the time, and reigning US Open Champion, she knocked off World #7 Marion Bartoli in the Semifinals, then fell to World #1 Victoria Azarenka in the championship match.
Last month, Stosur captured her 3rd Doubles Major at the Australian Open. Factor in Singles, Doubles and Mixed – she is a 7-time Grand Slam Champion in 13 career Major Finals. That’s a serious resume. Her unmatched work-ethic has bred longevity through durability, but Father Time is Father Time.
After finishing four straight seasons in the top-10, since 2014 Sam’s year-end ranking has been fading. She comes into this year’s Qatar Total Open as the World #73, and for the first time in Doha, she’s had to qualify. With only one Singles victory since week-1 – a 1st-Round win over Dominika Cibulkova -26- (SVK) in Sydney – back-to-back qualifying wins has to feel like a step in the right direction.
▲ QR1 Sam Stosur -73- (AUS) def Shilin Xu -210- (CHN) | 62 62
✔ Karolina Muchova -133- (CZE) def  Kristyna Pliskova -90- (CZE) 63 46 64
Nice win over a seeded Qualifier for Karolina Muchova, who’s now a step closer to reaching the main draw in her Doha debut. A 3-time Finalist on the ITF Circuit last year, she turned heads at the 2018 US Open. Not only did she qualify at a Major for the first time, she won her 1st-Round match over Dayana Yastremska -98- (UKR), then upset 2-time Grand Slam Champion Garbine Muguruza -12- (ESP) to reach the 3rd-Round.
This year, she started the season with a career-high ranking of World #130, then qualified for the Australian Open for the first time. Aside from her New York breakthrough last Summer, she hasn’t qualified for the main draw of a WTA event since Seoul in September of 2017. The 22-year-old is hungry, and ready to commit to the next level.
▲ QR1 Karolina Muchova -133- (CZE) def [WC] Mubaraka Al-Naimi -No Rank- (QAT) | 60 60
✔ Lin Zhu -108- (CHN) def Madison Brengle -97- (USA) 61 63
Last month, Zhu won her 8th title on the ITF circuit – shortly after qualifying at the Australian Open for the 3rd consecutive year. She’s been knocking on the top-100’s door for three years now. With wins over two former top-40 players, Alexandra Dulgheru (26) and Madison Brengle (35), Zhu is one step away from the main draw in her Doha debut.
▲ QR1 Lin Zhu -108- (CHN) def Alexandra Dulgheru -164- (ROU) | 46 61 64
✔ Liudmila Samsonova -168- (RUS) def Lara Arruabarrena -94- (ESP) 62 64
It’s been a hell of a weekend for 20-year-old Liudmila Samsonova. Yesterday, the World #168 took-out the 3-seed. Today, she upset veteran Lara Arruabarrena.
Last year, Liudmila exclusively played ITF events, capturing 2 titles in 4 Finals. She made her WTA Tour-level debut just last week in St. Petersburg, where she fell in the 2nd-Round of Qualifying – which essentially makes today’s victory the biggest win of her young career.
One more hurdle tomorrow, and she’s through to the main draw of a Tour-level event for the first time.
▲ QR1 Liudmila Samsonova -168- (RUS) def  Tamara Zidansek -63- (SLO) | 63 46 63
✔ Anna Blinkova -95- (RUS) def  Bernarda Pera -82- (USA)
American Bernarda Pera fended off a 98th-ranked Russian yesterday, but had few answers for World #95 Anna Blinkova today. Both qualified at last year’s Qatar Total Open. A Premier-5 event in 2018, Doha allowed for 8 Qualifiers, so two rounds of qualifying was enough.
Pera went on to lose in the 1st-Round to Johanna Konta -11- (GBR). Blinkova, just 19 at the time, had a memorable run. She upset both Elena Vesnina -23- (RUS) and  Kristina Mladenovic -13- (FRA) to reach the Round of 16. On-court comfort and experience that’ll serve her well as Anna takes a stab at reaching the main draw again tomorrow.
▲ QR1 Anna Blinkova -95- (RUS) def [WC] Emily Webley-Smith -506- (GBR) | 62 61