Belinda Bencic Continues Win Streak By Beating Pliskova - UBITENNIS
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Belinda Bencic Continues Win Streak By Beating Pliskova

Belinda Bencic marched on into the semi-final of the BNP Paribas Open with a hard-fought three-set win over Karolina Pliskova.

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Belinda Bencic (@BNPPARIBASOPEN on Twitter)

Belinda Bencic extended her extraordinary win streak to 12 matches with a 6-3 4-6 6-3 victory over Karolina Pliskova in the Indian Wells quarter-final.

 

The Swiss, 22, has now defeated six top-ten players in that time, and has her eyes on a second consecutive title after her triumph in Dubai.

“It feels amazing and I cannot believe that I have beaten Pliskova today,” Bencic said in her on-court interview. “I just try my best – I’m not thinking about the victory or anything else during the match.”

She continued, “I try not to think about who is on the other side of the court. The pressure is not on me against top-ten players. They have the pressure so I can just play.”

Pliskova handed Bencic the early initiative when she made three consecutive forehand errors to hand her two break points in game three. The Swiss player seized the opportunity with a backhand winner following a second serve to 2-1 up.

The next two games could hardly have been more different. After a serene hold from Bencic, Pliskova made two double faults to raise her opponent’s hopes of another break.

Thankfully for the Czech, she recovered her composure just in time and produced two big serves to secure the hold.

After a pep-talk from her coach, Pliskova attacked the Bencic serve in the next game, and it nearly yielded a break when she established a 15-40 advantage.

However, the Swiss seemed determined to stay ahead, and she sent down three excellent serves and an ace to save both break points and close out the game.

Bencic moved 5-3 ahead with another comfortable hold. Then she capitalised on a flurry of errors from Pliskova with a precise forehand winner that sealed another break and with it the set.

Pliskova fights back

Karolina Pliskova (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

The pattern of the match changed significantly in the second set. Pliskova found her rhythm and started returning much better. This enabled her to earn two breaks and move into a 3-0 lead.

Bencic re-focused and almost got one of the breaks back during a lengthy fourth game, but the World No.5 dug in and saved three break points with her trademark combination of big serves and powerful groundstrokes.

Even though she was now 4-0 down, the Swiss player did not give up on the set. She battled to a hold and then profited from a series of wild errors from Pliskova that gifted her a break to love.

Bencic then held to love and almost won her fourth consecutive game when she created two more opportunities to break in game eight.

Had she got the break, it would probably have heralded the end of the match. But Pliskova produced an ace when she needed it most and then hit a backhand that was too hot for the Swiss to handle.

However, the Czech’s struggles on serve were far from over. When she was serving to level the match, she saved one break point and could only watch and admire as Bencic hit four brilliant groundstrokes to save four set points. Unfortunately for the Swiss, she netted a backhand on the fifth set point.

Bencic steps up in the decider

Belinda Bencic (@BNPPARIBASOPEN on Twitter)

Both players started the decider in confident fashion and the first three games passed without any major incidents.

By contrast, the fourth game was crazy. Bencic played a superb, aggressive point to earn a break point. Pliskova saved it with a ferocious backhand followed by a well-controlled.

Then the game went back and forth to deuce as the Czech had four chances to finish it and the Swiss had three more chances to break before the World No.5 eventually held.

Along the way, there was some terrific tennis for the crowd to enjoy. Pliskova hit a series of stunning winners and Bencic demonstrated just how good she is at dragging an opponent all over the court with her clever varieties and accurate groundstrokes.

The match then settled down as if nothing had happened. Both players held to love before Bencic secured another comfortable hold to lead 4-3.

After missing so many chances to break in previous games, the World No.23 finally made the decisive breakthrough in game eight.

First, she hit a crisp backhand winner down the line. Then Pliskova made three unforced errors in a row to surrender her serve.

Just like in the previous round against Naomi Osaka, Bencic was clinical when serving for the match. She drew a couple of errors from the Czech with smart play, guided a volley into the open court and then clinched the win with an unreturnable serve.

[Also published at womenssporthub.com]

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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.

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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.

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WTA Abu Dhabi Daily Preview: Aryna Sabalenka Vies for her Third Consecutive WTA Title

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Aryna Sabalenka has lots of reasons to smile as of late (twitter.com/WTA)

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.

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Aryna Sabalenka Storms Into Abu Dhabi Final

The world No.10 has now won 14 matches in a row.

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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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