Lucie Safarova beat Dominika Cibulkova 7-6 (7-5) 6-1 at the Miami Open WTA Premier Mandatory to secure her spot in the quarter final, where she will face Caroline Wozniacki.
Cibulkova led 5-2 in her previous seven head-to-head matches against Safarova. In the first set both players traded breaks in the third and fourth games to draw level to 4-4. Cibulkova held serve putting pressure on Safarova, who served to stay in the first set at 4-5. Safarova held serve at 30 with her fourth ace. Safarova broke serve in the 11th game for 6-5 earning a chance to serve out for the first set. Cibulkova broke back to force the set to the tie-break. Cibulkova got the first mini-break but dropped her serve with a double fault. Safarova got two mini-breaks to earn two set points at 6-4. The Czech player did not convert the first set point, as she made her third double fault but sealed the set on her second opportunity after 54 minutes.
Cibulkova did not convert three break points in the first game of the second set. Safarova went up a set and a break to race out to a 3-0 lead after winning 11 of her next 13 points. She earned a double break to race out a 4-0 lead after a nine-deuce fourth game which featured 22 points. Cibulkova got one break back to trail 1-4 but Safarova closed out on her second match point with a forehand winner after 1 hour and 49 minutes to qualify for her first quarter final of a Premier Mandatory since Madrid 2015. Safarova has scored her first win against a top 10 player since beating Angelique Kerber at the 2015 WTA Finals in Singapore.
“It was a great match and I am really excited to be for the first time here in the quarter final. I knew I had to come out really strong and play fast and not let Dominika play her game. She puts a lot of balls back and she is a very big fighter so I had to be really sharp and strong, which I was. I am really happy it worked out. Winning today means a lot. It feels great to be here again with the best players, being able to beat them means my level is there again”, said Safarova.
Safarova will face Wozniacki, who advanced to the quarter final as Muguruza retired from the match after losing the tie-break of the first set.
Karolina Pliskova beat Barbora Strykova 6-1 6-4 in an all-Czech third round match to reach the quarter final at this tournament for the second time in her career. The two Fed Cup teammates met just twice in their careers. Pliskova won their first head-to-head match in Dubai 2015, while Strykova won their most recent match in Birmingham in 2016.
Pliskova got an early break in the fourth game with a forehand return winner. This year’s Brisbane and Doha champion won 11 straight points and went up a double break in the sixth game with another forehand to race out to a 5-1 lead and served out for the first set to love at 6-1 after 23 minutes. Pliskova dropped just one point in four service games in the opening set, as she made a double fault
The second set started with a trade of breaks. Pliskova saved two game points on Strykova’s serve to break serve in the first game at deuce with a down the line forehand winner. Strykova broke straight back to 30 in the second game as Pliskova made a backhand error. Strykova held serve to take the lead for the first time in the match. Pliskova broke twice in the fifth game to love and again in the seventh game at deuce. As Pliskova was serving for the match at 5-2, Strykova got one break back with a forehand winner. Strykova held serve to love in the ninth game to claw her back into the second set to 4-5. Strykova took a 15-40 lead in the 10th game, as Pliskova was serving for the match. Pliskova saved three break points to close out the final game at deuce on her second opportunity.
Pliskova has reached her fifth quarter final of the season. She has not made it to the quarter final only in one tournament at Dubai where she lost to Kristina Mladenovic one week after her second title of the second in Doha.
Pliskova has clinched her 22nd win to just three losses of the season (she has the best record on the WTA tour this season). The Czech player will face either Mirjana Lucic Baroni or Bethanie Mattek Sands. Lucic Baroni beat Pliskova in three sets in the quarter finals of this year’s Australian Open. Pliskova leads 2-1 against Mattek Sands, altheough they have not clashed since 2014.
“It’s never easy to play against a player I know very well. Everything was fine, going well until 6-1 5-2. I didn’t serve well. I didn’t put any first serves in. She played some good games on her side. I was happy to close it because the end was tricky. She started to slice more. I was a little bit, not really shaking, but the end was a little bit shaky, so I was just happy to get through. Up to that point it was a really high level from my side. I was dictating and she didn’t have much time to play her game, to go to the net and play those slices because I was playing fast from the baseline. Until 6-1 5-2 I am really happy with how I played”, said Pliskova.
Caroline Wozniacki held a one-set lead after winning the first set at the tie-break, when Murguruza was forced to withdraw due to illness. Wozniacki set up a quarter final against Lucie Safarova. The Danish player has won four of her seven head-to-head matches against Safarova, but the Czech player prevailed in their most recent head-to-head match on hard-court in Sydney in 2014.
Muguruza led 3-1 in her head-to-head matches against Wozniacki, but they have not met met since Wimbledon 2015 when Muguruza prevailed 6-4 6-4.
After an early trade of breaks, Wozniacki held serve to love in the third game to take a 2-1 lead. In the fourth game Muguruza looked to be cruising to a hold of serve, when she took a 40-0 lead. Wozniacki earned two break points, as Muguruza made two double faults and got the break with a forehand return winner to take a 3-1 with a forehand before holding her serve to 15.
Muguruza bounced back by breaking serve on her fourth break point after a hard-fought 11-minute seventh game.
Muguruza served for the set at 5-4 but Wozniacki broke straight back to draw level to 5-5. Serving to stay in the set at 5-6, Muguruza saved a set point, when Wozniacki sent her backhand into the net. Muguruza hit her forehand down the line to force the set to the tie-break. Wozniacki earned the mini-break, as Wozniacki hit her fifth double fault. Wozniacki hit her second ace to race out to a 4-0 lead before earning five set points, as Muguruza made a double fault. Wozniacki closed out on her first set point, as Muguruza made an error. Muguruza called it a day after 75 minutes. This was the third time that Muguruza retired from a match this season.
Unstoppable Aryna Sabalenka Storms To Abu Dhabi Title
Another clinical performance has secured the Belarusian her third consecutive title and a new career-high ranking position.
Aryna Sabalenka’s winning run shows no signs of stopping anytime soon after she powered her way to the Abu Dhabi title on Wednesday.
The fourth seed needed just over an hour to defeat Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova 6-2, 6-2, in what was a largely one-sided encounter in the Middle East. Sabalenka utilized her power to her advantage as she fired five aces and 18 winners past her opponent who was playing in her first WTA final at the age of 23. Overall she won almost twice as many points (63-37) than Kudermetova.
With both players holding their ground early on, Sabalenka started to dominate midway through the opening set with the help of a four-game winning streak. Leading 3-2 on serve, she broke her Russian rival twice in a row to clinch the 6-2 lead. Throughout the opener the world No.10 dropped just five points behind her serve.
It was a familiar pattern in the second frame with Sabalenka continuing to dismantle Kudermetova’s fragile serve. Overall, she broke six consecutive times in the final with four of those occurring in the second set alone. Easing to a game away from victory, she did experience a blunder after losing one of her breaks. However, there would be no chance of a Kudermetova comeback as Sabalenka closed out the match in the following game with her rival hitting a forehand error on match point.
“I’m really proud of the fact that I was fighting no matter what this week,” the new champion reflected on her performance. “Some matches I didn’t feel my serve and some matches I didn’t feel my backhand or forehand, but I just kept fighting and finding my shots, and this is what I’m really proud of. I’m really happy with this title.”
The win extends Sabalenka’s unbeaten run on the Tour to 15 wins. She has now won three titles in a row after ending 2020 triumphing in both Ostrava and Linz. As a result of her latest triumph, Sabalenka will rise to a ranking high of seventh in the world on Monday.
There is also a silver lining for underdog Kudermetova who defeated Elina Svitolina and Marta Kostyuk earlier in the tournament. Her run to the final will move her up the rankings to a career high of 36th. She has already scored five wins over top 10 opponents so far in her career.
“Aryna’s playing good. She played unbelievable today,” Kudermetova said. “She didn’t give me a lot of chances. She tried to keep every ball on the court, she tried to attack, and when she had her chances she went full power on the court. She also fights until the end—that’s why she’s a top player.”
Sabalenka’s surge on the Tour has sparked high expectations for her going into the Australian Open where she is hoping to break new ground in a Grand Slam.
“I was doing everything I could in each match from the beginning (in Abu Dhabi) and I’m happy to start the season with a title,” Sabalenka said. “I’m going to Australia, I’m confident with one thing, that I will do everything I can to win matches.”
Despite her success on the WTA Tour, she has only reached the fourth round of a major once at the 2018 US Open.
WTA Abu Dhabi Daily Preview: Aryna Sabalenka Vies for her Third Consecutive WTA Title
In a rare Wednesday final, she’ll face Veronika Kudermetova, who is playing in her first WTA championship singles match.
At the beginning of 2019, Aryna Sabalenka debuted inside the WTA top 10. That was coming off a 2018 season where in which Aryna accumulated 47 match wins, two titles, and reached the second week of a Major for the first time. From there, her progress stagnated a bit, as she spent the last two years ranked between No.9 and No.16. But now she’s on a 14-match winning streak, having claimed back-to-back titles to end 2020. With a win on Wednesday, she would reach a career-high ranking of No.7.
At the beginning of 2019, Veronika Kudermetova debuted inside the WTA top 100. The Russian steadily climbed the rankings that year, reaching the top 40 at the end of the season. Since the tour restart last August, the 23-year-old was a modest 7-6 before this event. But she dropped only one set this week on her way to her first WTA final, which included impressive wins over Elina Svitolina and Anett Kontaveit.
Aryna Sabalenka (4) vs. Veronika Kudermetova
Their only previous meeting does not provide much guidance as to what will happen on Wednesday. It took place six years ago at an ITF Challenger event in Antalya, which Sabalenka claimed in straight sets. Kudermetova will surely be nervous, as this is the biggest match of her career to date. And she’s facing an ultra-confident Sabalenka, who is on a 14-0 run. Yesterday, Aryna easily dispatched of an in-form Maria Sakkari, requiring only 57 minutes in a match where she struck 22 winners and only eight unforced errors. After yesterday’s win, Sabalenka told the press she’s focusing less on winning and more on the process of improving her game, and cited this as the reason for her current win streak. When Aryna is at her best, she can outhit just about anyone on tour. And we’ve seen before how difficult she is to defeat when she’s on a tear like this. I’m not betting against this version of Sabalenka winning her third straight title.
Other action on Wednesday:
In the doubles championship match, it’s 2020 St. Petersburg champions Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara (5) vs. Hayley Carter and Luisa Stefani, recent champions in Lexington. These two teams played in the third round of Roland Garros a few months ago, with the Japanese team prevailing in straight sets.
Full order of play is here.
Aryna Sabalenka Storms Into Abu Dhabi Final
The world No.10 has now won 14 matches in a row.
Fourth seed Aryna Sabalenka produced a dominant performance as she brushed aside Maria Sakkari 6-3, 6-2, to reach the final of the Abu Dhabi Women’s Open.
Sabalenka, who is bidding to win her third WTA title in a row, took control of the semi-final encounter during the early stages with the help of her powerful shot-making. Best illustrated by her 22 winners compared to just eight unforced errors. A stark contrast to Sakkari’s tally of 12 and 21. Sabalenka was also supreme behind her first serve where she won 83% of the points.
“I like to play against her,” Sabalenka said of Sakkari. “I think I’m just putting pressure on her every match we’re playing, and it’s helped me win all those matches.”
A clinical start to the match saw the Belarusian race to a 5-1 lead before Sakkari managed to gain any momentum herself. The Greek retrieved one of the breaks to close the gap to 5-3 but it was too little too late as Sabalenka served the set out with relative ease.
The second frame promised to be more of a close encounter early on with Sakkari producing the tennis which shows why she is ranked just outside of the world’s top 20. However, the problem for her was that she struggled to find a way to cope with Sabalenka’s sheer power. Level at 2-2, the world No.10 broke once again as Sakkari let out a burst of frustration. From then on it was a foregone conclusion as Sabalenka won four games in a row to seal victory in just under an hour.
Since her loss at the French Open, the 22-year-old has won 14 matches in a row. At the end of 2020 she claimed titles in Ostrava and Linz. Meanwhile, this week Sabalenka has also previously beaten Polona Hercog, Ajla Tomljanovic, Ons Jabeur and Elena Rybakina.
“I think I’ve put my focus in the right space,” she said. “I’m focusing on the right things, which helps me not think about all of these wins, and so it helps me to keep winning. I need to keep concentrating on my game and my movement on the court, and trying to do everything I can in the moment.“
Should Sabalenka go on to win the Abu Dhabi title she will rise to a ranking high of seventh in the world. Awaiting her in the final will be either Veronika Kudermetova or Marta Kostyuka.
“I’m really looking forward to this final,” Sabalenka said.
“I’m just focusing on the right things. This helps me to, first of all, not think about all these wins, and secondly, to keep winning.”
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