Top seeds tumble out as Sakkari sets up semis showdown with Sabalenka - GulfToday

Top seeds tumble out as Sakkari sets up semis showdown with Sabalenka

Aryna Sabalenka

Aryna Sabalenka reacts after winning her Abu Dhabi Open quarter-final match against Elena Rybakina (unseen) on Monday. Courtesy: WTA twitter

Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and second-seeded Elina Svitolina were eliminated from the season-opening Abu Dhabi Open on Monday.

Kenin lost to ninth-seeded Maria Sakkari 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 in the quarter-finals. Svitolina lost to unseeded Russian Veronika Kudermetova 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (3).

Sakkari hit nine aces and 23 winners, while Kenin had zero aces and only eight winners. The loss was Kenin’s third in 14 career quarterfinal matches.

It was World No.4 Kenin who had won their two previous encounters, which were three-set thrillers in the first round of 2018 Wimbledon and the second round of the 2018 US Open. This time, though, Sakkari charged back from the loss of a quick first set to dominate the final two frames and collect the win after 83 minutes of play.

Overall, Sakkari converted six of her 13 break points, and fired 23 winners, including nine aces, to Kenin’s eight winners. The World No.22 reeled off the final ten games of the match to attain the upset victory.

“I was rushing a little bit too much in the beginning of the match,” Sakkari said. “I was hitting too big when I didn’t have to, but I’m glad that once again I found a way to just turn the match around.”

Sakkari will next face fourth-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, who won her 13th straight match by beating Elena Rybakina 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.

Sabalenka has defeated Sakkari in three of their four meetings, including twice in the Middle East last season, at both Doha and Dubai.

“[Sabalenka is] super confident now,” said Sakkari. “We know each other really well, we practice a lot together. She’s having a great career so far and she’s really young. She’s one of the toughest players to play out there. I beat her once so I think I can do it again. I’m not saying I will for sure, but it’s going to be a very tough match for both.”

Sabalenka finished last season with titles at the Ostrava and Linz indoor tournaments and has started 2021 with four wins in Abu Dhabi. Sabalenka has won three of the four matches she has played against Sakkari, all of them on hard courts.

Heading into Monday’s quarterfinal, neither Rybakina or Sabalenka had yet to lose a set. Facing her first Top 10 opponent since losing to Elina Svitolina in the Strasbourg final last fall, Rybakina was bidding for her fifth career Top 10 victory and her first over Sabalenka, who won their only prior meeting at the 2019 Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, 6-3, 1-6, 6-1.

Svitolina twice came back from a break down in the deciding set, including when Kudermetova served for the match at 6-5, but trailed 3-0 in the tiebreak and couldn’t recover.

The World No.46 extended her head-to-head rivalry lead over Svitolina, having now upset the World No.5 in both of their two meetings.

Svitolina had come through her third-round match against Ekaterina Alexandrova in a final-set tiebreak, but she was unable to repeat the feat two days in a row, as 23-year-old Kudermetova fired 50 winners, including 11 aces, to take the quarterfinal victory. The win puts the Russian into her first semifinal at a tournament of this level.

“It was a really tough match,” Kudermetova said after her win. “I think we both played very good. I tried to stay focused until the end. In the first set, I also played not bad, but I didn’t have a lot of chances, Elina played unbelievable. She had good serves today. I tried to fight, I tried to stay focused, and do everything for the win.”

Kudermetova will next play Marta Kostyuk in the semi-finals with both players looking to reach what would be their first career tour final.

Kostyuk, an 18-year-old Ukrainian, lost the opening seven games of her match against Sara Sorribes Tormo before winning 0-6, 6-1, 6-4.

In the first set, Sorribes Tormo stormed to a 6-0 lead after just 24 minutes. The Spaniard never faced a break point in the opening frame, winning all four of her second-service points in the process, and she won 26 of the 35 points played to claim the one-set lead. Sorribes Tormo had just a single unforced error in the first set.

However, after dropping serve and losing a seventh straight game, Kostyuk’s aggressive game began to click into gear. The Ukrainian got on the board with a break for 1-1, and began to take control in the forecourt, putting away a volley for another break for 3-1.

A brilliant forehand passing winner at the end of a long rally closed out another long game in Kostyuk’s favor, as she charged ahead to 5-1. The Spaniard was unable to stop Kostyuk’s run of games as the teenager coolly served out the set with more tremendous volleying expertise. Kostyuk had 13 winners in the second set, while Sorribes Tormo did not execute any.

After two sets of one-way traffic, the decider was much closer, as the deep, weighty shots of Sorribes Tormo and the net-charging aggression of Kostyuk slammed against each other, resulting in six consecutive breaks. Sorribes Tormo finally quashed that streak, coming out on top in lengthy rallies to hold on for 4-3.

However, Kostyuk kept striking stellar volleys, holding for 4-4 while saving a break point in the process, and then breaking for 5-4, converting her third break point of another long game with a forehand winner at net. The teen smoothly completed the match in the next game, forcing an error with a backhand down the line for victory.

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