Doha: Day-7. The Champions

She has one of the kindest hearts on tour…and a punishing single-barreled backhand. Tonight in Doha, the latter finally kicked-in at 3-all in the second set of the Championship match. The former was clearly obvious as she celebrated the most signigicant title of her career. Carla Suarez Navarro. Qatar Total Open 2016 Champion.

Carla Suarez Navarro. Champion.

It had been two years since Carla won her first singles title (Oeiras / April 2014). She was a 3-time Finalist early last year in Antwerp, Miami and Rome, but her season hit the skids after a first-round loss at the Wimbledon Championships: A 2-6, 0-6 thumping from her opponent tonight, 18-year-old Jelena Ostapenko. Yikes.

Needless to say, Suarez Navarro must have had some level of anxiety before taking the court. The Wimbledon loss to Ostapenko led to a miserable Summer slump. While she and Garbine Muguruza enjoyed success on the doubles court; in singles, Carla didn’t win a single match throughout the U.S. hard-court season. That’s nearly three-months without a win. Soul crushing. She fell out of the top-10 and finished the season as the World #12.

In the first set, it was Wimbledon déjà vu. Ostapenko broke twice before the first sit down, totally overpowering the Spaniard. Jelena would break again to claim the set 6-1. In the second, Suarez Navarro dug-in, boosted her serve percentage, and started taking control of longer rallies. With precision backhands, she rag-dolled the 18-year-old all over the court, and finally scored a break to go up 4-3, eventually earning the set 6-4. In the decider, Ostapenko jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Carla immediately broke back, then again to go up 3-2. From there she served out the match and leapt into her coach’s arms. (1-6, 6-6, 6-4)

These are pressure-packed wins – with championships on the line – that have been elusive to Carla Suarez Navarro. This “come-from-behind, it-all-comes-down-to-this” style of victory is critical in enhancing a player’s mental toughness, solidifying self-belief. There’s no question, should Carla Suarez Navarro go on to exceed her season goals of reaching the top-5 and delivering better results in the Slams – this Premier-5 win in Doha is the defining moment that will fuel those achievements. She’s now been there, done that, and can do it again. Oh, and by the way, come Monday she will be the World #6…a career-high. Congrats Carlita.

Jelena Ostapenko. Finalist.

Hell of a tournament for the young Latvian. She and her mom arrived in Doha thinking she would have to play through qualifying. Thanks to withdrawls, the World #88 found herself in the main draw, plowing through top-seeds and higher-ranked players like it was nothing. ZERO intimidation. She crushed Zarina Diyas, bageled the 12-seed Svetlana Kuznetsova after a first-set tie-break, took-out the World #8 Petra Kvitova, dominated Zheng SaiSai, overcame an injured Andrea Petkovic and delivered a career-first WTA Premier-5 Finals appearance.

She’s an amazing ball-striker who can really make things uncomfortable for the sport’s top-talent. The pace of her groundstrokes steals significant time, leaving opponents scrambling, dependent on defense. Without a solid game-plan and precision shot-making, those who face Jelena can expect to be overwhelmed by her power, endurance and heady confidence. She’s not arrogant – she’s just damn good – and only 18! Insane.

After a great week in Qatar, come Monday, Jelena Ostapenko will now be one of 3-teenagers inside the top-50 on the WTA Tour. Not bad for someone who was ranked outside the top-100 just six-months ago…

Chan Yung-Jan and Chan Hao-Ching. Champions.

Yes. Carla Suarez Navarro certainly had a memorable week here in Doha. The singles champion teamed with last week’s singles champion in Dubai, Sara Errani, to reach the Qatar Total Open 2016 Championship match. While they fell tonight in their first Final as a team, considering the remarkable success both have enjoyed over the past two weeks, there was absolutely nothing to complain about.

That said…What a remarkable win for the Chan sisters, faced with the challenge of playing two of the hottest players on tour – one with five Grand Slam doubles titles to her name. That’s pressure…

Latisha and Angel delivered – earning both sets 6-3, 6-3 – and leaping to #2 on the WTA’s Road to Singapore. In the trophy ceremony, Latisha congratulated Carla on her singles victory and humbly acknowledged Sara Errani, telling the Italian what an honor it was to get the opportunity to share the court with such a great champion. Angel said they hadn’t checked the numbers before the match, so the news that they’d become the second best team on the WTA Tour was an absolute shock. In fact, when I told them both during our interview for the international broadcasters, they blurted out simultaneously: “ALREADY?!”

Already, ladies. Congratulations on a great week in Doha. Their win tonight is their second title of the year and 7th career win together. I don’t think there’s any question that there will be quite a few more.

Qatar Total Open 2016 – Completed Singles Draw
Qatar Total Open 2016 – Completed Doubles Draw
Qatar Total Open 2016 – Completed Qualifying Draw