Dubai: Top seed Simona Halep stayed on course for a second title as she completed the women’s singles semi-final line-up alongside American qualifier Jennifer Brady at the Dubai Duty Free Women’s Open, late on Thursday.
The lone surviving past champion of the three entered this week — first round losers Belinda Bencic and Elina Svitolina were the other two — Halep clawed her way to a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 win over seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka in Thursday’s last match on centre court.
Halep will now meet Brady after the American got rid of the fancied Garbine Muguruza in three sets 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4 earlier in the day.
“The key today was to play a bit stronger as the match went on. Luckily I found my rhythm and that helped,” Halep told a near full centre court.
“It’s always tough against her as she is a bit taller, so I had to take a lot of power and take the initiative of opening up the court for my shots. Every tournament is a different challenge and now I will have to go and get ready for the next one against Brady,” the 28-year-old Romanian world No. 2 added.
Now ranked No. 52, Brady was not unnerved about facing a former world number one. “I feel fine. I’ll do my recovery, everything, and get ready for tomorrow,” she blurted.
Halep and Brady had met in the opening round of the Australian Open last month with the Romanian coming through in straight sets. “Obviously she is a great player and competitor. It will be a tough one tomorrow,” the American predicted.
At the lower end of the draw, one of the Tour’s fasting-improving talents Elena Rybakina registered yet another big win to earn the right to take on eighth seed Petra Martic. Rybakina, who had dispatched off Australian Open champion and fifth seed Sofia Kenin on the opening night followed by a win over qualifier Katerina Siniakova, next packed off second seed Karolina Pliskova 7-6, 6-3.
“It’s an amazing feeling to beat a top-5 player for the first time. I didn’t really think if she’s No. 2 or 3. It doesn’t really matter to me. I always try to do my best,” Rybakina said. “Of course, I want to win every match. So, I was just focusing what I had to do,” she shrugged.
Martic was ready for the challenge ahead of her on Friday against the nippy girl from Kazakhstan. “I feel fresh, to be honest. I didn’t play that many matches in January. I was really kind of eager to come out, kind of get some wins,” she related.
“I came here with not much confidence, not much rhythm, not much of anything basically. But I kind of fought through. The first round was also tough. I’m really just trying to stay in the moment and get the most out of it,” the Croatian added.
Women’s singles semi-finals: (Thursday) Elena Rybakina (KAZ) bt  Karolina Pliskova (CZE) 7-6, 6-3; Jennifer Brady (USA) bt  Garbine Muguruza 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4;  Petra Martic (CRO) bt Anett Kontaveit (EST) 7-6 (4), 6-1;  Simona Halep (ROU) bt  Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.
(Doubles quarter-finals) Desirae Krawczyk (USA)/Alison Riske (USA) bt Hayley Carter (USA)/Luisa Stefani (BRA) 6-3, 4-6, 10-6;  Barbora Krejcikova (CZE)/Saisai Zheng (CHN) bt  Nicole Melichar (USA)/Yifan Xu (CHN) 6-4, 5-7, 13-11;  Gabriela Dabrowski (CAN)/Shuai Zhang (CHN) bt Lyudmyla Kichenok (UKR)/Nadiia Kichenok (UKR) 6-2, 6-4;  Su-Wei Hsieh (TPE)/Barbora Strycova (CZE) vs Sofia Kenin (USA)/Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA) 6-3, 6-0.
Order of Play (Friday)
Centre Court (Start at 2pm) Barbora Krejcikova/Saisai Zheng vs Desirae Krawczyk/Alison Riske; (5pm) Petra Martic OR Anett Kontaveit vs Elena Rybakina; (7pm) Simona Halep OR Aryna Sabalenka vs Jennifer Brady; Su-Wei Hsieh/Barbora Strycova OR Sofia Kenin/Bethanie Mattek-Sands vs Gabriela Dabrowski/Shuai Zhang.