Doha 2017. Day-5. All Caught Up. Finals Tomorrow

Mentalists and magicians typically dominate WTA Player Parties. See the Qatar Total Open 2017 Player Party at the Four Seasons. This year, I would argue that the most talented magician occupied a small office just off of center court at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex: WTA Tournament Supervisor, Tony Cho.

WTA Tournament Supervisor Tony Cho

WTA Tournament Supervisor Tony Cho

He did it. Through dozens of rain delays and overnight play suspensions, he has somehow managed to deliver two on-time championship matches at the Qatar Total Open. For the first time this week, the forecast looks rain-free on Saturday; cold and windy, but rain-free.

The Doubles Final will begin at 3:30pm featuring Yaroslava Shvedova and Olga Savchuk vs. Katarina Srebotnik and Abigail Spears. It will be Olga’s third doubles final of the year and Yaroslava’s 28th career doubles final. Srebotnik and Spears have both won the Doha doubles title before with different partners: Srebotnik in 2011 with Kveta Peschke and Spears in 2015 with Raquel Atawo. Remarkably, it will be Katarina Srebotnik’s fourth Qatar Total Open doubles final.

The Singles Championship Match should begin at 6:00 featuring 2011 Finalist Caroline Wozniacki and the #2-seed Karolina Pliskova. Wozniacki is a 2-time finalist on this court – first in the 2010 WTA Finals, then at the Qatar Total Open 2011. This will be Pliskova’s second Final of 2017, after earning the Brisbane title over Alize Cornet in week-one of the season. Wozniacki and Pliskova won both their Quarterfinal AND Semifinal matches today to reach the Final.
 

So how did we get here with over 30 match suspensions?

The week started with Fed Cup related scheduling challenges. On Sunday night, half of the field was scattered across the globe. Only two 1st-Round main draw matches were on Monday’s order of play; one was cancelled due to rain. By Tuesday, the rain was relentless. Only one additional 1st-Round match was completed by day’s end. With 11:00a starts, we managed to complete 1st-Round play on Wednesday, Round of 16 play Thursday, and the Quarters and Semifinals today. Several were forced to play two matches a day. Some, in both the singles and doubles draws, had to play three matches in a single day. All had to face the anxiety of scheduling and weather-related uncertainty both on and off the court.

Here’s how we miraculously got back on track…

Here's how WTA Tournament Supervisor Tony Cho did it...

Friday. Despite rain interruptions, we are back on schedule

Today, we started at Noon on center court with the conclusion of the Monica Puig vs. Daria Kasatkina Quarterfinal, suspended by rain in the third set last night.

At 1:00, Karolina Pliskova took to the court for only her second match of the tournament vs. Shaui Zhang of China. Meanwhile Caroline Wozniacki and American Qualifier Lauren Davis continued their Quarterfinal at the same time over on Court-1. Both matches were interrupted by rain, but were completed in-time for “suitable rest” before the Semfinals.

Friday Night, we started the Semifinals with Karolina Pliskova’s first career win over Dominika Cibulkova. Caroline Wozniacki then earned her spot in the Final with a straight sets win over Olympic Gold Medalist Monica Puig.

In doubles, Yaroslava Shvedova and Olga Savchuk finally played their first matches of the tournament today. Last night, their 1st-Round opponents Timea Babos and Daria Kasatkina withdrew from the doubles draw. In their first match on Friday, they eliminated Andrea Hlavackova and Shaui Peng in the Quarterfinals. They returned to the court a short while later to take-down the #1-seeds Martina Hingis and Yung-Jan Chan. If they win the title tomorrow, technically they will have won all of their matches at the Qatar Total Open 2017 in just over 24-hours. Crazy.

Yaroslava and Olga will face Katarina Srebotnik and Abigail Spears in the Final, who somehow managed to avoid playing more than one match a day all week. Abigail and Katarina defeated the #2-seeds Sania Mirza and Barbora Strycova in the Semifinals this afternoon.
 

Day-5: Quarterfinals on Center Court

Last year, 18-year-old Jelena Ostapenko became Doha’s darling with unintimidated upset wins over Svetlana Kuznetsova, Petra Kvitova and Andrea Petkovic to reach the Final. After upsetting top-seed Angelique Kerber yesterday, 19-year-old Daria Kasatkina was looking to make shock-waves of her own.
 
M. Puig (PUR) d D. Kasatkina (RUS) 46 75 64. At noon on Friday, Daria Kasatkina and Olympic Gold Medalist Monica Puig took the court to complete their Quarterfinal; they were on-serve with Puig up 2-1 in the third.

Monica Puig. Qatar Total Open Semifinalist
Last night, Daria took the first set thanks to a service-break before the 3rd changeover. Rain interrupted the match twice before Monica earned set-2 on her return game. Both broke to start the third, then Monica held before rain ended play for the day. Daria needed the rest. She had played 79 games in two days compared to Puig’s 59.

The overnight rest appeared to favor Kasatkina as we launched into play on Friday. Daria won the first three games to take a 4-2 lead, just two games away from her third career WTA singles semifinal. Puig struggled to find her focus. She started her next service game with a double fault, and looked cooked. Not so. Somehow, she saved two break points, won the game…AND THE NEXT THREE to win the match. It was an incredible momentum shift. Down 2-4, 15-40, Puig proved to herself she had plenty of fight left. Kasatkina’s confidence faded. While Daria managed to erase two match points, Monica finally won it on match-point #3, breaking Kasatkina’s serve for the victory.
 
[2] Ka. Pliskova (CZE) d S. Zhang (CHN) 62 60. Friday’s second match on Center Court was only Karolina Pliskova’s second match of the tournament. After a productive Fed Cup weekend, she didn’t arrive in Doha until Monday evening, and was originally scheduled to play her first match Wednesday (as the #2-seed, she had a 1st-Round bye).

Karolina Pliskova. Qatar Total Open Semifinalist
At first, she was thankful for the rain, giving her additional rest. By this morning, she was dreading it – knowing a victory this afternoon meant another battle tonight. Shuai Zhang had already been through the ringer. She defeated Timea Babos in a rain-delayed match Wednesday, then took the court later that afternoon to defeat the #5-seed Garbine Muguruza.

Friday’s Quarterfinal was a long, drawn-out slaughter. Rain interrupted the match twice, killing several hours, rattling the nerves of tournament organizers. Would we be able to complete play and catch up, or would some players be forced to play two matches on Championship Saturday? Finally, just before dusk, the rain quickly faded…as did Zhang. Though a mental challenge with all of the interruptions, Pliskova earned the win in just 14-games, conserving energy for her Semifinal later that night.
 
C. Wozniacki (DEN) d [Q] L. Davis (USA) 75 61. Meanwhile, in far more challenging and windy conditions on Court-1, Caroline Wozniacki continued her determined Doha run, defeating American Qualifier Lauren Davis in straight sets.

Caroline Wozniacki. Qatar Total Open Semifinalist
Caroline has spent more time at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash complex than any other player. Tuesday night, Caroline’s was the last match on Center Court before play was finally called for the day. On Wednesday, she completed her win over Kiki Bertens, then took the court with Agnieszka Radwanska…but play was cancelled before ball-up. Yesterday afternoon, she defeated Radwanska in Center Court’s second match. Her Quarterfinal with Davis was then moved to Court-1, where they played one game before rain cancelled play for the night AGAIN.

Wozniacki has endured the mental mind-screw of three consecutive overnight match suspensions. Today marked her third straight day of mutiple matches. As you’ll see, she went on to win her Semifinal over Puig. Regardless of outcome tomorrow, she has to be impressed with her own cerebral stamina thus far.
 

Day-5: Semifinals on Center Court

Finally, the rain was over. By the time we started the Semifinals on Friday night, the forecast called for continued clearing – though it was turning windy and cold. Forget staying dry, the focus shifted to staying warm on changeovers and adjusting to gale-like gusts during play.
 
[2] Ka. Pliskova (CZE) d [3] D. Cibulkova (SVK) 64 46 63.

While Caroline Wozniacki’s Quarterfinal match continued on Court-1, tournament organizers decided to start Friday night’s Semifinals with the Cibulkova vs. Pliskova match. Dominika had managed to avoid the scheduling nightmares all week and looked primed to reach the Final. Pliskova however, managed to steamroll Shuai Zhang earlier in the day (despite several rain delays), and had plenty of fuel left in the tank.

In the first set, Dominika was up a break 4-2. Three games later, she was serving just to stay in the set. Pliskova couldn't miss, utimately earning the set after winning four consecutive games. Cibulkova responded by jumping ahead 4-0 in set-2. The "insurance break" held and we moved-on to the decider. In the third, Pliskova's serve was simply unreturnable.

At 3-all, she saved two break points and never looked back. After breaking Cibulkova to go up 5-3, she finished the match on serve, pounding 21 aces in the victory.

Karolina was 0-3 against Dominika before tonight’s match. Tomorrow, she’ll compete in her 18th career Final. If she keeps serving like she did tonight, she will likely earn her 8th WTA singles title. Had Cibulkova not faded at the tail-end of the first set, this would have been a completely different outcome.
 
C. Wozniacki (DEN) d M. Puig (PUR) 61 62 .

Clearly, it was another long day for Caroline Wozniacki. She started the day at 1:00 on Court-1 and endured several rain delays before finally defeating Lauren Davis to reach the Semifinals. Monica Puig started the day at Noon on Center Court, but only had to play 8-games to earn her spot in the Semis. However, nine hours is a long time to think about your upcoming match…

Caroline Wozniacki. Qatar Total Open Finalist
Wozniacki dominated the first set, breaking Puig three times to earn it 6-1. At 2-all in the second, Puig up 40-30, Monica crushed a game-winning serve that was called out. Wozniacki got her frame on it, but the serve was definitely unreturnable. When challenged, the out-call was overturned; but rather than give Monica the point (and the game), the chair umpire gave Monica a first serve. I was shocked. Puig didn’t even blink. Rather than challenge the umpire’s ruling, she took her first serve and continued with the game…which she lost just three points later. Monica would go winless the rest of the way, dropping five consecutive games to lose the match.

After a rough week, loaded with distraction and uncertainty, Caroline was the more focused player, and escaped with an easy win to reach her 43rd career WTA singles Final.