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Qatar Total Open: Ostapenko wins tough opening match against Buzarnescu

Rudy Martinez
ANALYST
Feature
88   //    12 Feb 2019, 22:46 IST

Jelena Ostapenko
Jelena Ostapenko

A very challenging night on court ended with a three-set win for Jelena Ostapenko at the Qatar Total Open Tuesday night. With little preparation on the court, the 21-year-old had to fight back Mihaela Buzarnescu and the wind which took their toll on center court, but she came out with a 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 win at the Khalifa International Tennis Complex.

Ostapenko's victory continued the losing streak for the Romanian, who is yet to win a match this season.

The two made it a second meeting in Doha and third overall, making it a very interesting rekindling of their young rivalry. The Romanian defeated the Latvian easily in the tournament last year, giving up just four games in her straight sets victory. It was to be quite a year for the 30-year-old, who won her first WTA title in San Jose.

While this season hasn’t started on a positive note for either of them, the comfort of playing where both have been strong promised to set up a close match.

The wind was a pivotal factor in the match, making it very tough for Ostapenko to play the opening game against Buzarnescu’s serve. The Romanian won the first three points but allowed Ostapenko to come back to force deuce. Winning break point proved to be difficult for the Latvian though, as she missed two of them. But she was third time lucky, landing a great crosscourt return winner to grab the initiative.

Ostapenko dominated on serve to quickly make it 2-0 with a shutout. But Buzarnescu rallied back with a comfortable hold of her own, keeping things in check early against the former French Open champion.

She soon found herself down 3-1 though, before another break in the fifth game gave Ostapenko plenty of breathing room. The Latvian then put in another hold to love, making it the third game where she hadn't lost a point.

With the Romanian on the edge of collapse and the wind working against her, she handed the set to Ostapenko after just 22 minutes. The Latvian handled the windy conditions well, keeping her shots in the court and committing just three unforced errors, while her opponent had nearly a dozen.

The second set started with Ostapenko holding serve comfortably, seemingly intent on making a serious push for victory. But she soon faced a challenging time as the Romanian was determined to hold her own.

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Ostapenko had break point chances but getting the ball in amid the wind was a tough task. Five break points came and went, and the 30-year-old held on the fifth AD point to even the score, in what was the longest game of the match.

The two remained on serve through four games. Buzarnescu had found a way to dig in against Ostapenko and use the wind to her advantage during her service games. She then got her first chance for a break, and she found herself at the right place and the right time to gain the advantage in the set.

The sixth game was a tough battle with Buzarnescu suffering bouts of service yips, coughing up a few double faults. But Ostapenko still had a lot working against her, and she allowed Buzarnescu to secure a double break after a double fault in the seventh game saw her frustration level climb high.

The Latvian pulled herself together in the eighth game, which helped her break back through a series of forceful returns that Buzarnescu was never going to get to. The Latvian tried to ramp up the pressure in the ninth while on serve, but mistakes on the forehand allowed the Romanian some breathing room.

It was just enough for Buzarnescu to secure the fifth consecutive break of the set and a chance to force a deciding set. Though it was quite a task, the 30-year-old put what pressure she could against the Latvian to earn set point, which she won to end things in 43 minutes.

Both players had 14 unforced errors but the major mistakes were in the double faults department, with four to Ostapenko. That was what helped the Romanian put the seven she made behind her and retain a chance to still win the match in the decider.

Ostapenko knew that she was in trouble but had a new set to fight out. She came back from 0-40 down, saving three break points to force deuce, and she ultimately got the hold. The double faults from Buzarnescu helped her gain break points in the second game, but they slipped away with a late firm stance by her opponent.

The holds were becoming important for both the players as the 21-year-old secured her second of the set, granting Buzarnescu just one point in the third game. It then became 3-1 for the Latvian as another double fault from her opponent gave her the break.

That was the 12th double fault for Buzarnescu, who let her frustration out. But Ostapenko suddenly saw her game falter again, allowing the 30-year-old to get to deuce in the fifth. The Latvian somehow saved the break back points that Buzarnescu wanted so badly, holding for the second time and taking a 4-1 lead.

Errors from the Romanian got her into more trouble, but she secured the hold, cutting Ostapenko’s lead in half. That didn’t build into anything though as the 21-year-old rallied to hold Buzarnescu off in the seventh, setting up the endgame.

After a challenge went in favor of Buzarnescu she couldn’t put the game away, as the Latvian played well during a crosscourt rally. She took that momentum and shot a return crosscourt winner to earn match point.

The victory arrived after a short rally where the ball landed long of the baseline, ending a tough day that took 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete.

“It was a very tough match having just come from Fed Cup competition so I didn’t have much time to get used to the conditions today,” Ostapenko said during her on-court interview. “It was so windy and really tough to get used to but I had really good memories from here and pleased with the win.”

She’ll hope for an easier match in the second round against Elina Svitolina, who she has faced twice before. “She’s a very good player and I know how to play against her but I’m just looking forward to another great match.”




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Rudy Martinez
ANALYST
A writer with eight years experience in sportswriting. He specializes in the National Hockey League, WTA Tennis and both summer and winter Olympic sports.
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