Vera Zvonareva beat Victoria Azarenka 7-6, 6-4 yesterday to claim her second victory of the WTA Championships in Doha and stay in the hunt for the year-end world No 1 ranking.
In contrast to her straightforward victory over Jelena Jankovic, the ailing Serb, Zvonareva was pushed hard by Azarenka, who arrived in the Qatari capital fresh from capturing her second title of the year in Moscow.
After an uninspired opening, punctuated by a bizarre breakdancing interlude on the purple-coloured court following the second change over, Zvonareva's superior ground strokes began to tell as Azarenka became increasing erratic and emotional.
The 21-year-old from Belarus squandered a glorious chance to break in the eighth game, letting out a deafening shriek of frustration.
The first set went to a tiebreak, Zvonareva breaking immediately to jump out to an early lead and, despite struggling on her own serve, she wrapped it up 7-4.
In the second set, Zvonareva had Azarenka on the back foot, arrowing deep backhands to the corners and finding her target with consistency.
Despite playing a day earlier, the Russian was the one dictating the pace, pushing Azarenka around the court and forcing her into a string of unforced errors.
At 5-4 down, Azarenka saved two match points but netted a weak forehand on the third to hand victory to the Russian.
Caroline Wozniacki, the top seed, was in a ruthless mood as she beat Elena Dementieva in her first match at Doha.
The Dane - a six-time winner on the tour this year - was a comfortable 6-1, 6-1 winner and lost just eight points on serve to win the round-robin clash inside 53 minutes. Samantha Stosur beat Italian Francesca Schiavone 6-4, 6-4 as she gained revenge for her French Open final defeat.
In men's play Jurgen Melzer, the defending champion, defeated Lukasz Kubot of Poland 7-6, 7-6 to reach the quarter-finals of the Bank Austria Trophy in Vienna yesterday.
Melzer, top-seeded on tour for the first time, had an early break but then lost four games in a row to go 5-3 down. He saved a set point when Kubot served at 5-4, and took the opening set on his first chance in the tiebreaker.
Melzer went 4-1 up in the second but again needed a tiebreaker, and converted his first match point when Kubot netted a return.
"It was far from easy as he took many risks," Melzer said of Kubot, who served 13 aces but also nine double faults. "I was more consistent and tried to stick to my own game."
Melzer, at a career-high 12th ranking, said winning the first set from 5-3 down was key.
"I was very glad to take that opener," the Austrian said. "From then on, I knew I had to rely on my own strengths."
In the quarter-finals, Melzer will take on either seventh-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber or German Tobias Kamke.
In first-round play, Bjorn Phau had a surprise 6-2, 6-4 win over fellow German Florian Mayer, who lost his third career final to Roger Federer in Stockholm on Sunday.
Phau next plays fourth-seeded Marcos Baghdatis, who had a bye in the first round.