Announcer for the 2021 Qatar Total Open, Andy Taylor recaps Victoria Azarenka’s bizarre Quarterfinal victory over Elina Svitolina. An absolutely baffling victory — Azarenka felt pain in her back during the warm up, and it got worse as she played. The 2-time champion and 2015 Finalist took a medical time-out during the second game – but out of respect for Elina, decided to continue. Vika could hardly serve, yet still managed to find limited rotation on her ground strokes.
Meanwhile, completely rattled by Azarenka’s injury, Svitolina never found her rhythm. This year’s top-seed sent both serves and returns right up the middle, and sprayed shots wide when attempting to take advantage of Azarenka’s limited movement. Truly a strange match to witness live.
Fourth meeting. Azarenka remains undefeated.
Doubles partners this week, this was the 4th meeting between these two top-talents – and second clash in Doha. Their first career meeting – happened 6-years-ago, right here on this court, at the 2015 Qatar Total Open. It was a thriller that included a second set tiebreak to force the deciding set. That year, Azarenka went on to reach the championship match, where she fell to Lucie Safarova.
[8/WC] Victoria Azarenka -14- (BLR) | Quarterfinal Announcer Introduction
She is a 2-time Qatar Total Open Champion and 3-time Doha Finalist. In 2012, she lifted the Falcon for the first time – and a year later, defended her title with a breathtaking, deciding-set victory over Serena Williams. In 2015, she reached the championship match again, and owns an outstanding 16-2 overall record at this event. Last season – after 2020’s pandemic pause – she quickly became the hottest player on tour. In New York, she won 11 consecutive matches – capturing the title at the Western & Southern Open, then reaching her 5th career Grand Slam Singles Final at the US Open, and broke back into the WTA’s top-15 for the first time in 3-years. From Belarus, please welcome 2-time Doha champion Victoria Azarenka.
- QF — W —  Elina Svitolina -05- (UKR) | Score: 6-2, 6-4
- R2 — W — [Q] Laura Siegemund -56- (GER) | Score: 6-4, 6-2 | RECAP
- R1 — W — Svetlana Kuznetsova -39- (RUS) | Score: 6-2, 6-3 | RECAP
 Elina Svitolina -05- (UKR) | Quarterfinal Announcer Introduction
A Semifinalist here in Doha 2-years-ago – She is a WTA Finals Champion, a 2-time Grand Slam Semifinalist, and has been ranked as high as World #3. Last March, she won the title in Monterrey – just before the global pandemic slammed the brakes on the season. When she returned in September, she got right back to it – capturing her 15th career title in Strasbourg. One of the most consistent talents on tour, she’s been ranked inside the WTA’s top-10 4-years-running – and returns to Doha as the World #5, and this year’s top-seed. From Ukraine, please welcome Elina Svitolina.
- QF — L — [8/WC] Victoria Azarenka -14- (BLR) | Score: 2-6, 4-6
- R2 — W — [LL] Misaki Doi -83- (JPN) | Score: 6-1, 6-2 | RECAP
- R1 — BYE
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” announcer 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.