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Simona Halep vs Catherine Bellis Qatar Total Open tennis live: Halep continues quest to reclaim no. 1 ranking in Doha

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 15 Feb 2018
  • Simona Halep faces qualifier Catherine 'Cici' Bellis in the quarterfinals of the Qatar Total Open on Friday
  • Halep vs Bellis Qatar Total Open tennis is live from Doha on Friday at 5pm local/2pm GMT
Simona Halep (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Simona Halep continues her quest to reclaim the Qatar Total Open title and the world no. 1 ranking too as she prepares to face qualifier Catherine Bellis in the quarterfinals on Friday.

Qualifier Catherine Bellis has taken out some big names so far at the Qatar Total Open – will world no. 2 Simona Halep be next when they face off for a place in the semifinals in Doha?

Champion at the Qatar Total Open in Doha in 2014, when she won what was then the biggest title of her career beating Agnieszka Radwanska and Angelique Kerber on the way, Halep came into this year’s event as the second seed and a veteran now of matches on the sport’s biggest stages – but also with plenty of questions hanging over her head after narrowly losing the Australian Open final and the world no. 1 ranking with it to Caroline Wozniacki at the end of January. Would the Romanian be fully fit after the ankle injury she picked up at the beginning of her run in Melbourne and which caused her to pull out of Romania’s Fed Cup World Group II tie against Canada? And psychologically, had she bounced back from her third and potentially most devastating defeat in a Grand Slam final?

Well, so far Halep has been brushing aside such questions with ease. Newly accoutered in Nike after playing without a sponsor at the Australian Open, having failed to renew her contract with long-time sponsor Adidas, Halep dropped just three games in her opening match against Ekaterina Makarova and then looked even better against Anastasija Sevastova in her third-round match on Thursday. Admittedly, Halep was on a four-match, eight-set winning streak against the world no. 15, but Sevastova remains a very tricky player and it was a very self-assured performance from the Romanian to reach the quarterfinals.

‘I can say that it was a little bit better,’ Halep said after the match, comparing Thursday’s performance to the one she turned in against Makarova. 

‘I felt the ball a little bit better. But you know, it's a different opponent, so it's always tough to compare the matches. But the most important thing that I can win the match. It was not easy. We had some important moments during the match. So I'm really glad that I could finish it in two sets and play like I played. I mean I'm really pleased with the way I played today and very confident.’

By reaching the quarterfinals, Halep has given herself the opportunity to retake the world no. 1 ranking after having skipped the Middle Eastern swing last year while current incumbent Wozniacki is defending runner-up points in Doha and Dubai. If Halep can do one round better than Wozniacki, who faces the in-form Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals, she will once more be ranked world no. 1 on Monday. 

Halep was seeded to face defending Qatar Total Open champion Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals – not a bad prospect, given her excellent record against the Czech – but instead is up against a less well-known quantity, qualifier Catherine Bellis, on Friday.

Qatar Total Open 2018 live stream: WTA tennis live from Doha

Bellis – often known as ‘Cici’ – isn’t a total unknown, with her name somewhat familiar to tennis fans ever since she beat then-world no. 13 Dominika Cibulkova in the first round of the US Open in 2014 as a 15-year-old wildcard ranked world no. 1,208. Her ranking trajectory ever since has been uniformly upwards, with the teenager climbing up to world no. 161 in 2015 and finishing 2016 inside the top 100 after deciding to turn pro, reaching the third round of the US Open as a qualifier and the quarterfinals of the Premier-level Bank of the West Classic and winning her last 15 matches of the season. Bellis spent 2017 carving out a place for herself in the top 50, scoring her first win over a top-10 player against Agnieszka Radwanska in Dubai last February and going on to make the semifinals of Mallorca and Stanford and the third rounds of Roland Garros and Toronto (where she got her second top-10 win over Svetlana Kuznetsova). 

Now 18 years old, Bellis is clearly enjoying Midde Eastern hard courts in Doha as much as she did with her run to the Dubai quarterfinals last year. After an unexceptional start to the year – she lost in the second round of Brisbane, qualified for Sydney but lost in the second round there and was taken out of the Australian Open by Kiki Bertens in the first round – Bellis is now on a five-match winning streak at the Qatar Total Open, qualifying for the main draw before ousting three higher-ranked players: Daria Kasatkina, who retired due to a neck injury; US Open runner-up Madison Keys, who lost her way after a dominant first set; and finally world no. 5 Pliskova, whom the young American beat 7-6(4), 6-3. 

No giant – her official height is listed at 5’7” – and no powerhouse, Bellis had been wiped off the court 1 and 1 by Pliskova in Brisbane, but she had a plan to turn things around today and executed it flawlessly, imposing herself on the match from the beginning with relentless depth on the ball, impeccable defense and some really impressive returning, breaking the Czech, one of the biggest servers on tour, five times. Pliskova was out of sorts and looked like she was feeling the after-effects of last weekend’s stomach illness, making 53 unforced errors and serving eight double faults, but it was Bellis who consistently took the initiative and largely set the tone for the match and for what turned out to be an impressive victory. 

‘When I played her in Brisbane, she killed me, and I was super nervous before that match,’ Bellis said. ‘It was the start of the year. It was my second match of the year and she was playing really well there.

‘I knew I had to be super on top of it from the first point today, and that's what my team and I discussed, from the first point I had to be 100 percent rather than kind of get into the match and take a few games. So I think that was a big part of it.’

Halep and Bellis have never played, but the world no. 2 will be a completely different proposition for Bellis from the big-hitting but also error-prone players Keys and Pliskova she has faced so far. 

‘I feel old!’ Halep teased when asked about the teenager. ‘She's very good. I saw her playing a few times, not today but in the past. I feel that she's moving pretty well. She's hitting fast. She tries to be aggressive, close to the baseline. So I will see tomorrow. 

‘I never played against her. I never practiced with her. So it's going to be a new thing, new challenge. But I'm ready, and I feel that I have just to do my game, not thinking about anything else.’

Halep vs Bellis Qatar Total Open tennis is live from Doha on Friday at 5pm local/2pm GMT

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Simona Halep vs Catherine Bellis Qatar Total Open tennis live: Halep continues quest to reclaim no. 1 ranking in Doha

Teenage qualifier Catherine Bellis has upset two top players and is looking to make it a hat-trick of shock wins by ousting world no. 2 Simona Halep: WTA Qatar Total Open tennis live from Doha

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