Dubai: Fourth seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus extended her career-best match-winning streak to 14 and set a showdown with Veronika Kudermetova in the final of the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open to be played on Wednesday.
Sabalenka took under an hour to sweep past No.9 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece 6-3, 6-2, while Kudermetova came in later to wage a fierce battle for a 7-6, 6-4 win against teenager Marta Kostyuk and book her rightful place in the final.
“We spoke about how to approach this match with my coach and we too thought it was quick out there today. Maybe my serve was working well like yesterday,” Sabalenka explained to media later.
“I don’t know why I am having this winning run. But I do know that I have put my focus on the right things and this helps me not to think about all these wins as such. I realise that I just need to to keep focusing on movement on the court and do all the things I can,” she added.
One of the things that has helped her a lot is a self-help book by Mark Manson that she is about to finish. “I have improved my mental aspect and it is from that that I get my confidence. Focus on the right things has helped me tremendously and I am just enjoying the game,” Sabalenka said.
“This book has shown me that there are more things in life than tennis. I am almost done with the book and it has shown me that the more important things in life are just trying to improve myself. I really don’t care what anyone thinks about me. I am just doing my job and enjoying myself,” she added.
Sabalenka is aware of the task at hand as she tackles Kudermetova in the final on Wednesday.
“We have been working a lot on the serving game while trying to be more consistent on the returns. Everyone wants to win, and she [Kudermetova] is also here to win heading into Melbourne. She is moving well and serving great as well. My part will be in staying focused on my game and on each point as that is what I going to help me in the end,” she insisted.
“I need to move well and serving well will be important tomorrow. I am looking forward to this final,” Sabalenka said.
Sabalenka went in with an advantage having claimed the last three of her four previous encounters with Sakkari, including wins in the Middle East last season in Dubai and Doha. With her fourth straight victory over the Greek on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi, the Belarusian entered her 13th career WTA singles final.
World No.10 Sabalenka slammed 22 winners in the match, including eight aces, tempered by just eight unforced errors in a commanding performance. The Belarusian controlled the court by winning 83 per cent of her first-service points, continuing her run of success in the Middle East which extends back to a title-winning run in Doha last season, her previous event in the region.
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Sabalenka will meet Veronika Kudermetova after the Russian dug deep before winning 7-6 (8), 6-4 against Ukrainian teenager Marta Kostyuk in the second semi-final.
It was a massive achievement for Kudermetova as the 23-year-old from Kazan reached her first-ever WTA singles final.
World No.46 Kudermetova had gone 0-4 in her previous WTA singles semi-finals, but the Russian at last broke through for her first championship match appearance.
Kudermetova, who notched her fifth career top-10 win over second seed Elina Svitolina in the quarter-finals, will now have to pull off a sixth top-10 win if she hopes to hoist the trophy ahead of Sabalenka in Wednesday’s final.
“It was a really tough match as both of us were not playing very well due to the nervousness of being in a semi-final for the first time. At times, I tried to focus and push the ball through the court. Besides, it was not easy to play against a youngster, but I fought till the end. It’s the first final for me and it will be interesting to play for the first time against Sabalenka tomorrow. It will be interesting and funny at the same time,” Kudermetova disclosed.
“I have a little bit more experience as Marta is really young and that, I think, was the key between us,” she added.
The Russian had not many expectations of Wednesday’s final. “We are two similar players and I don’t have much expectations of myself. In fact, she has a bit more pressure on herself as she is a top-10. On the other hand, I will play free and stay relaxed while enjoying my first final,” Kudermetova noted.
 Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) bt  Maria Sakkari (GRE) 6-3, 6-2
Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) bt Marta Kostyuk (UKR) 7-6 (8), 6-4.