Dubai: It was a day of upsets in the UAE capital as ninth seed Maria Sakkari knocked off top seed Sofia Kenin while Veronika Kudermetova accounted for second seed Elina Svitolina as the semi-final line-up was decided at the inaugural Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open on Monday.
At 25, the oldest in the last four stages, Sakkari reeled off the final 10 games to upset top seed Kenin 2-6, 6-2, 6-0, while Kudermetova, the 23-year-old from Kazan, Russia dug in deep to outplay Svitolina 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (3) in the day’s last match.
Ukraine’s 18-year-old fast-improving teen Marta Kostyuk got the better of Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo 0-6, 6-1, 6-4 after 22-year-old Aryna Sabalenka had weathered off sixth-seeded Elena Rybakina 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 earlier in the day.
With a 0-2 head-to-head record, Sakkari made lightwork of her American opponent. “I wouldn’t say these are the best two sets I have ever played. I have played better sets in other matches too. But today, I played good, really good, but this wasn’t my best tennis,” Sakkari said.
“It gives me a lot of confidence beating such top players. Yesterday it was Garbine [Muguruza] and today it is Sofia. This is important as there is Grand Slam coming and we are all waiting for that. This week I have got the chance to play with players I haven’t played, and in general it gives me a lot of confidence,” she admitted after her crisp win in an hour and a half.
“Right now, I am super happy to travel to Australia with some good matches under the belt,” added the 25-year-old from Athens.
Earlier in the day, World No.10 Aryna Sabalenka extended her career-best winning streak to 13 matches and booked her spot in her third consecutive semi-final with a lop-sided 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win over No.19 Elena Rybakina and set a meeting with Sakkari.
Heading into Monday’s first quarter-final, neither Rybakina nor Sabalenka had lost a set. Facing her first to-10 opponent since losing to Elina Svitolina in the Strasbourg final last year, 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 also in three sets.
Little separated the two in the 34-minute opening set, which was decided by a single break point that came on the last point of the set. Putting on a clinic in first-strike tennis, both women leaned into their forehand wings at every chance, blistering the ball to open the match.
“To me the key lay in being patient and waiting for my opportunity to come along. The first set was tight and I won that. In the second there was a bit of a dip on my part and she won it,” Sabalenka said.
“She’s got a fast game and I knew that at some point her game will drop and that’s when I took my chance. It really doesn’t matter who I play next as I will be ready with a gameplan with my coach. That’s my life and I am enjoying it,” she smiled.
(Singles)  Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) vs  Elena Rybakina (KAZ) 6-4, 4-6, 6-3;  Maria Sakkari (GRE) bt  Sofia Kenin (USA) 2-6, 6-2, 6-0; Marta Kostyuk (UKR) bt Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) 0-6, 6-1, 6-4; Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) bt  Elina Svitolina (UKR) 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (3).
(Doubles) Laura Siegemund (GER)/Vera Zvonareva (RUS) bt Jennifer Brady (USA)/Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP) 6-7 (7), 6-2, 1-0 (8);  Shuko Aoyama (JPN)/Ena Shibahara (JPN) bt  Su-wei Hsieh (TPE)/Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) 6-4, 6-1; Sofia Kenin (USA)/Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS) bt Arantxa Rus (NED)/Tamara Zidansek (SLO) 6-4, 6-4.