Doha - World number one Victoria Azarenka stormed into the Qatar Open quarter-finals on Thursday with a ruthless 6-0, 6-0 triumph over highly-regarded American Christina McHale.
Defending champion Azarenka, who is at risk of losing her top ranking to Serena Williams this week, produced a relentlessly forcing performance over McHale, a 20-year-old who has already posted seven victories over top 10 opponents.
The top-seeded Belarussian needed little more than an hour to remove the unfortunate American from her path into the last eight, a performance whose control, aggression, and intensity was all the more stunning for happening amidst swirling conditions where consistency was difficult to achieve.
The way in which Azarenka completed the Valentine's Day rout also suggested that she may well be the genuine favourite to retain her Qatar Open title, as a sequel to her gutsy retention of the Australian Open title last month.
"Everything was working for me today," she said. "When I stepped on court I felt my game. When I had a couple of difficult games I stayed focussed and took advantage of that, and that was the key.
"Christina has played some excellent matches and had some big wins and so I had to stay focussed. I think I got rid of my frustrations (with the windy weather) yesterday."
Remarkable though it may sound, McHale played by no means badly.
It was only in the last game, in which she committed three double faults, that she crumbled. But although she often hung in well in the rallies, she did not have the weapons to hurt the champion.
Azarenka next faces Sara Errani, the world number seven from Italy, in a half of the draw which also contains Agnieszka Radwanska, the fourth-seeded Pole who was her semi-final opponent last year, and Caroline Wozniacki, the former world number one from Denmark.
Radwanska advanced with a craftily constructed 6-1, 7-6 (8/6) win over Ana Ivanovic, the former French Open champion from Serbia.
Radwanska's reward is a quarter-final with Wozniacki, who survived a testing encounter by 7-6 (8/6), 6-3 against Mona Barthel on an even windier outside court. The German led 5-3 in the tie-break in conditions in which the ball sometimes threatened to bounce over the back stop, and where one or two line decisions had Wozniacki's father-coach Piotr screaming at the umpire.
"It was all about somehow surviving out there," said Wozniacki ruefully.
She had a consolation though - a Valentine's Day bouquet of roses from boyfriend Rory McIlroy, the world's number one golfer.
Results from the fourth day of the WTA Qatar Open on Thursday:
Victoria Azarenka (BLR x1) bt Christina McHale (USA) 6-0, 6-0
Sara Errani (ITA x6) bt Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) 7-5, 5-7, 6-2
Agnieszka Radwanska (POL x4) bt Ana Ivanovic (SRB x13) 6-1, 7-6 (8/6)
Caroline Wozniacki (DEN x10) bt Mona Barthel (GER) 7-6 (8/6), 6-3
Samantha Stosur (AUS x8) bt Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) 6-4, 7-5
Maria Sharapova (RUS x3) bt Klara Zakopalova (CZE) 6-3, 6-3