Dubai: One of the fastest improving players was joined by a qualifier in the semi-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Women’s Open, on Thursday.
Second seeded Karolina Pliskova was unceremoniously dumped by Elena Rybakina 7-6 (1), 6-3, while American Jennifer Brady was the lone qualifier standing with a hard-fought 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4 while packing off ninth-seeded Garbine Muguruza.
Last year, Elena Rybakina was nominated for 2019 WTA Newcomer of the Year Award.
A few months later, the lanky 20-year-old Kazakh girl is fully justifying that nomination following her dream debut run in Dubai.
Entering the tournament as Tour leader in match wins with a 17-3 record following her final in St Petersburg last week, Rybakina showed scant regard for the former world No 1 from the Czech Republic.
If the first set was well-contested with both players relying on their baseline game, it was in the second set that the 20-year-old was most effective and imperious as she swept away the current world No 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.
Rybakina opened the 2020 season with back-to-back final runs, first reaching the championship match in Shenzhen where she lost to Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova, before claiming a second career title at Hobart where she defeated Shuai Zhang in the final. Last weekend, she was a losing finalist against Kiki Bertens at the St Petersburg International.
Playing with a career-high ranking and with a total of 126 aces in the 21 matches she has played so far, Rybakina is the current Ace Queen. “I knew I had to serve good today. I knew also that it’s not going to be long rallies. I was preparing myself just to return. First three balls I had to play, like, really focused. I was trying to do it,” Rybakina related.
“It was hot. It was really difficult for me. But I think I did everything possible today,” she smiled. Rybakina will play against the winner of the early evening match between Anett Kontaveit and Petra Martic.
In the late afternoon clash, Pliskova — a losing finalist in 2015 — did all she possibly could, but could not stop qualifier Brady from going through in three sets. The first was well-contested with Brady nudging clear in the sixth before Pliskova broke back in the ninth and held to push it to the tiebreaker.
Brady made her move in the seventh game of the second set and won the next two games to take the set 6-3 and force a deciding third. Both players went neck-and-neck, and it was Brady going for her shots while sticking to a higher percentage game to break in the tenth and walk away into her first-ever Premier level semi-final on the WTA.
“I think really the match started from 3-2 in the second set for me. Never really felt like I was in the match from the very beginning. I think maybe a bit of nerves from both of us. It was a bit of a slow start from both. Yeah, happy that I was able to close it out at the end,” Brady related.
“The biggest positive for me was to be able to find a way. I wasn’t feeling my best. Yeah, maybe didn’t play my best tennis, but just found a way to stay in there, compete and come out on top,” the world No. 52 added.
In the semi-finals, she will play either against top seed and world No 2 Simona Halep or seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka.
Women’s singles semi-finals:
Elena Rybakina (KAZ) bt  Karolina Pliskova (CZE) 7-6, 6-3; Jennifer Brady (USA) bt  Garbine Muguruza 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4.
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).