Announcer for the 2021 Qatar Total Open, Andy Taylor recaps Karolina Pliskova’s Round-2 victory over Ons Jabeur. Much anticipated, tonight’s Round of 16 nightcap was a rematch of last year’s Round-3 Jabeur upset, where Ons reached the Quarterfinals of a Premier-5 (now WTA-1000) event for the first time. Another thriller that came down to the wire, tonight Pliskova likely benefitted from reduced fan attendance due to the pandemic. Last year, even Ons acknowledged that the raucous Tunisian fan-base played an important role in her momentous victory.
Third meeting, rematch of last year‘s Round of 16 in Doha. Pliskova earns redemption.
All of their matches have gone the distance. Typically, whoever takes the first set wins the match.
 Karolina Pliskova -06- (CZE) | Round-2 Announcer Introduction
One of four returning champions this week – 4 years ago, during a rain-soaked Qatar Total Open, she won 4 matches in 3-days to lift Doha’s famous falcon. She’s a Grand Slam Finalist, a 3-time Billie Jean King Cup Champion, owns 16 WTA Singles titles, and spent 8-weeks as the sport’s top-ranked player. Last season, she started the year by capturing the title in Brisbane – and after 2020’s pandemic pause, reached her 29th career Final in Rome. A consistent top-10 talent for the past 6-years – she’s back competing in her 8th Qatar Total Open. From the Czech Republic, please welcome 2017 Doha Champion Karolina Pliskova.
- R2 — W — Ons Jabeur -31- (TUN) | Score: 6-4, 4-6, 7-5
- R1 — BYE
Ons Jabeur -31- (TUN) | Round-2 Announcer Introduction
In 2012, she made her first Doha appearance as a 17-year-old Wild Card ranked outside the top 12-hundred. And in just 9 short years, she’s become one of the most popular talents on Tour. She’s now the highest ranked Arab player in WTA history. Last season, she became the first Arab woman to reach the Quarterfinals of a Major at the Australian Open. Then here in Doha, she reached her first WTA-1000 Quarterfinal, before the global pandemic slammed the brakes on the season. When play resumed, she got right back to it – reaching her second WTA-1000 Quarterfinal at the Western & Southern Open – and by January, cracked the WTA’s top-30 for the first time. A fan favorite, competing in her 9th Qatar Total Open – please welcome – a 100% Tunisian product, Ons Jabeur.
- R2 — L —  Karolina Pliskova -06- (CZE) | Score: 4-6, 6-4, 5-7
- R1 — W — [Q] Anna Blinkova -69- (RUS) | Score: 6-2, 6-2 | RECAP
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.