Announcer for the 2021 Qatar Total Open, Andy Taylor recaps Madison Keys’ Round-1 victory over Belinda Bencic. It was Madison’s first match of the 2021 season. She missed the Australian Open after testing positive for COVD-19 days before her flight to Melbourne. Meanwhile, Belinda had just arrived in Doha; after reaching the Final in Adelaide on Saturday night, where she fell to Roland Garros Champion Iga Swiatek.
Third meeting, first in six years. Keys now owns a 2-1 edge.
Before tonight, these two top talents had met twice before in 2015. Madison Keys won their first encounter in Round-2 at Roland Garros. A month later, Belinda Bencic won their Round-2 match in Eastbourne, where she captured her first WTA Singles title at just 18-years-old.
Madison Keys -19- (USA) | Round-1 Announcer Introduction
Making her 2021 season debut — she is a Grand Slam Finalist, owns 5 WTA Singles titles, and has been ranked as high as World #7. In 2016, at the Summer Games in Rio, she reached the Bronze Medal match in her Olympic debut, and qualified for the year-end WTA Finals for the first time. A year later, she was a US Open Finalist — and in 2019, captured the biggest title of her career at the WTA-1000 event in Cincinnati. Back in Doha, competing in her 2nd Qatar Total Open — From the United States, please welcome Madison Keys.
- R1 — W —  Belinda Bencic -12- (SUI) | Score: 6-4, 6-1
 Belinda Bencic -12- (SUI) | Round-1 Announcer Introduction
She just arrived from Australia – where on Saturday night in Adelaide, she contested her 11th career WTA Tour-level Final. No stranger to success during the WTA’s Arab-swing, she captured her second WTA-1000 title 2-years-ago in Dubai, earning four top-10 victories to lift the trophy. In all, she owns 4 Singles titles, is a Grand Slam Semifinalist, and last year – climbed to a career-high ranking of World #4. A Quarterfinalist here last year, back in Doha for her 4th Qatar Total Open – From Switzerland, please welcome Belinda Bencic.
- R1 — L — Madison Keys -19- (USA) | Score: 4-6, 1-6
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2021 Qatar Total Open: Different Date. Unusual Circumstances.
In 2021, due to the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic, the WTA Tour rescheduled the Qatar Total Open to take place the first week of March. A portion of the season typically carved-out for week-1 of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. When Indian Wells postponed its tournament due to COVID-19’s continued threat to the Coachella Valley, the Tour reinvented the 2021 calendar.
As a result, in January Abu Dhabi hosted the season’s first event. A WTA-500 tournament specifically created to get players back on court. Dubai then hosted Australian Open qualifying, while main-draw entrants traveled to Australia for two weeks of quarantine. Meanwhile, Tennis Australia moved the Australian Open to the second week of February to accommodate the country’s strict pandemic protocols. Immediately following quarantine, the WTA hosted several new tournaments in Melbourne Park. All designed as lead-up events to the season’s first Major. After Oz, Adelaide hosted its postponed tournament, while most traveled to the Arab Gulf to prepare for the Qatar Total Open and Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Doha: Rebranded in 2021 from Premier to a WTA-500 Tournament
The WTA also rebranded the 2021 Qatar Total Open a WTA-500 event, after the Tour realigned its tournament tier structure during the off-season. Rather than International, Premier, Premier-5 and Premier Mandatory; starting in 2021, all WTA events became classified as WTA-250, WTA-500 and WTA-1000 tournaments (similar to the ATP Tour).
Moving forward, the Qatar Total Open and the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships will continue to alternate the WTA’s two Arab Gulf events. More specifically, on “even” years the Qatar Total Open will host the WTA-1000 event with a field of 64. Consequently, during “odd” years, it will feature a WTA-500 event with a field of 32.
Coronavirus: Delivering a top-shelf international event responsibly
While the Qatar Tennis Federation allowed fans to attend the 2021 Qatar Total Open; the QTF sold tickets at reduced capacity. All wore masks, encountered temperature checks upon arrival, and adhered to social-distancing guidelines – required to sit several seats apart.
Players, WTA staff and umpires lived in their own “bubble” at the Four Seasons. Meanwhile, tournament support, lines-people, ball persons and the announcer stayed in a separate “bubble” at Ezdan Palace. All underwent routine coronavirus testing and regular temperature checks. Everyone was required to wear masks at all times (except players and umpires during competition). The locker-room was off-limits for the athletes until their match was on-deck, and none were allowed to shower on site. Every aspect of post-match recovery took place at the player hotel.
Pandemic Event Hosting: Champions adjust
From behind-the-scenes pandemic protocols to extreme “socially-distanced” on-court interviews and trophy presentations – the Qatar Tennis Federation and WTA adhered to every science-guided precaution to ensure the safety of all involved. And by doing so, despite all of the obvious challenges, delivered another top-shelf experience for both players and fans on site and those watching around the world.
Hosting high-profile international events during a devastating pandemic is possible. That is, when organizers have the courage, compassion and ingenuity to reinvent the way things are done; when they have the flexibility and financial support to adjust expectation. And as we’ve all learned after one year of separation, isolation, anxiety and heart-break: the “escape” that televised sports provides is invaluable to mental health. A welcome distraction to a very un-welcome new reality.