Truthfully, Australian Open champion Na Li hadn’t been playing her best tennis in Doha, just two weeks after her second Grand Slam Championship. With a first round bye, she had to battle world #32 Magdalena Rybarikova through a third-set tie-break in the 2nd round; and on Thursday, Li was very uncharacteristically inconsistent against world #134 Petra Cetkovska of the Czech Republic. Unforced errors and breaks of serve highlighted the match – from both players – and despite being up 3-1 in the third, Na Li couldn’t close out the match. Cetkovska scored her second win over a top-3 player. Even with a 3rd round loss, without Victoria Azarenka here to defend her points, Na Li will leave Doha as the #2 player in the world behind Serena Williams.
After the match, Cetkovska was near speechless…in shock, really. After all, she’s played a lot of tennis this week – two qualifying matches, Sloane Stephens (14-seed), Shuai Zhang, and now Na Li (1-seed). Even 30-minutes later in the press-conference, she was still having trouble putting into words how she felt after the win: (Q: How do you feel after this big surprise of beating Li Na, No. 2 in the world, and qualifying to the next round? PETRA: Well, as I said, as I said just now, I feel great. Yeah, I mean, I cannot not feel great. It is normal. SO, yeah. It’s just yeah.)
The 3rd round delivered another long match after Li’s fall, as Czechs Lucie Safarova and Petra Kvitova took to the court. Kvitova came from behind to take the first set, and nearly did it again in the second, but Safarova managed to close it out and even the match after two. In the third, Kvitova jumped out to an early lead, and finished-off her Fed Cup teammate 6-2. After the match, Petra made it clear that her Doha strategy was NOT to come from behind in each set, knowing she’ll have to stay ahead and limit her unforced errors against Jelena Jankovic in the Quarterfinals.
Thursday’s third match saw Mirjana Lucic-Baroni back on court against world #4 Agnieszka Radwanska. Mirjana was a junior phenom back in the late-90’s. She won the 1998 Australian Open doubles title with Martina Hingis…at just 15-years-old. She’d go on to reach Wimbledon’s Mixed Doubles Final with Mahesh Bhupathi that year, and in 1999, reached the Wimbledon Singles Semifinal. She took several years off, after that early success, to cope with personal issues involving abuse from her father. About six years ago, she launched her comeback, and its been a long road…
In Doha, she’d played through qualifying, then defeated Yvonne Meusburger and Paris champ Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova; her hard-hitting and unfamiliarity both advantages against her younger opponents. Sadly for Mirjana, her back defeated her against Radwanska, and she had to retire after a close first set. To lighten the mood, we had a little fun with Agnieszka after the match.
Thursday’s final match on center court saw Romania’s Simona Halep own Germany’s Annika Beck in two quick sets. Simona’s coming off a successful Fed Cup weekend with Monica Niculescu and Sorana Cirstea – as they advanced Romania into the World Group II Playoffs. As the 7-seed, she had a first round bye, won a tough 3-setter against Kaia Kanepi, then the easy win over Beck, and will now face Sara Errani in the Quarterfinals…ankle permitting. Toward the end of last night’s match, it was obvious Simona was in pain – especially during serve; but after the match, she said she didn’t “tweak” the ankle, its simply nagging discomfort that intensified as the match went on. We’ll see.
RESULTS: Qatar Total Open 2014. Day Four. Singles Third Round.
[Q] P Cetkovska (CZE) d  N Li (CHN) 76(2) 26 64
 A Radwanska (POL) d [Q] M Lucic-Baroni (CRO) 64 01 Retired
 P Kvitova (CZE) d L Safarova (CZE) 76(2) 57 62
 S Errani (ITA) d M Niculescu (ROU) 26 75 61
 J Jankovic (SRB) d [WC] A Kleybanova (RUS) 61 62
 A Kerber (GER) d K Zakopalova (CZE) 62 63
 S Halep (ROU) d A Beck (GER) 64 61
Y Wickmayer (BEL) d J Cepelova (SVK) 16 62 60
RESULTS: Qatar Total Open 2014. Day Four. Doubles Third Round.
 S Errani (ITA) / R Vinci (ITA) d L Raymond (USA) / S Zhang (CHN) 64 76(6)
 S Hsieh (TPE) / S Peng (CHN) d [PR] I Buryachok (UKR) / V Diatchenko (RUS) 62 64
 K Peschke (CZE) / K Srebotnik (SLO) d C Garcia (FRA) / O Kalashnikova (GEO) 76(1) 76(6)
 C Black (ZIM) / S Mirza (IND) d K Pliskova (CZE) / K Pliskova (CZE) 46 62 10-4
[WC] J Jankovic (SRB) / A Kleybanova (RUS) d  R Kops-Jones (USA) / A Spears (USA) 64 64
 A Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) / N Petrova (RUS) d A Groenefeld (GER) / M Lucic-Baroni (CRO) walkover
A Kudryavtseva (RUS) / A Rodionova (AUS) d D Jurak (CRO) / A Klepac (SLO) 63 64
M Niculescu (ROU) / K Zakopalova (CZE) d H Chan (TPE) / L Huber (USA) 63 63
FRIDAY: Qatar Total Open 2014. Day Five. Singles Quarterfinals.
[Q] P Cetkovska (CZE) vs  A Kerber (GER)
 P Kvitova (CZE) vs  J Jankovic (SRB)
 S Halep (ROU) vs  S Errani (ITA)
Y Wickmayer (BEL) vs  A Radwanska (POL)
FRIDAY: Qatar Total Open 2014. Day Five. Doubles Quarterfinals.
 S Errani (ITA) / R Vinci (ITA) vs [WC] J Jankovic (SRB) / A Kleybanova (RUS)
 S Hsieh (TPE) / S Peng (CHN) vs M Niculescu (ROU) / K Zakopalova (CZE)
 K Peschke (CZE) / K Srebotnik (SLO) vs A Kudryavtseva (RUS) / A Rodionova (AUS)
 C Black (ZIM) / S Mirza (IND) vs  A Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) / N Petrova (RUS)