Abu Dhabi | Haddad Maia upsets Jabeur on way to Last 4

Beatriz Haddad Maia upset Ons Jabeur at the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open on Friday to reach the semi-finals for a second year in a row, where she will face Daria Kastakina, an easy winner over Sorana Cirstea, for a place in the final, while top-seed Elena Rybakina advanced to a Last 4 shootout with Liudmila Samsonova after wins over Cristina Bucsa and Barbora Krejcikova respectively.

I'm a bit sad because I was starting to feel my game and feel good, and these injuries don't help. The priority now is to find the solution to try and keep up and, hopefully, I can do it. Ons Jabeur

6th-seeded Haddad Maia had a much easier time than of late, defeating Jabeur, the No 2 seed, in straight sets in an hour and 30 minutes, 6-3 6-4.

The Brazilian came through the longest match of the year on Wednesday, outlasting Poland’s Magda Linette, 7-6(6) 6-7(1) 6-1 in 3 hours and 42 minutes.

Haddad Maia’s win over Jabeur in their first outdoor hard-court meeting levelled her record against the Tunisian at two wins apiece, while it is also the Brazilian’s first Top 10 win since beating Jabeur in last year’s Roland Garros quarter-finals.

The No 6 seed, who fell to eventual champion Belinda Bencic in the 2023 semi-finals, takes on Kasatkina, the 7th seed from Russia, next as she bids to make her first final of the year.

Kasatkina routed Romanian Sorana Cirstea 6-2 6-0 in 74 minutes to reach her second semi-final of the season so far.

Haddad Maia delivered a watertight and consistent performance to hold off Jabeur, whose form fluctuated throughout the match, the Brazilian firing 11 winners to 13 unforced errors, compared to the Tunisian’s 25 winners and 28 miscues.

Jabeur held a break point in the first game of the match, but sprayed a forehand wide, which set the tone for an impatient opening set in which she continually went for too much, too soon.

Haddad Maia broke for 3-1, courtesy of a double-fault, a mistimed smash and a netted slice from Jabeur, and although the 3-time major finalist found some rhythm in the last 2 games, it was too late to save the set.

Beatriz Haddad Maia comforts a distressed Ons Jabeur (R) after their quarter-final match in Abu Dhabi

© Christopher Pike/Getty Images

A rare loose service game from Haddad Maia let an early break lead slip in the second, and the home stretch of the match became more tightly contested.

Jabeur came up with some of her most breath-taking shots, including a defensive drop-shot in the 5th game, and a series of electrifying down-the-line forehands, but the 29-year old Minister of Happiness shed tears on court, either because of her emotions or physical pain.

Later she revealed that she has been troubled by a long-standing knee injury all week.

The No 2 seed, though, managed to regain her composure down the stretch of her quarter-final loss, but dropped the final 3 games to the Brazilian left-hander, who easily served out the win.

Haddad Maia’s ability to respond to Jabeur’s in-and-out play had been superb, as she snuffed out any potential momentum gains by Jabeur with a flurry of winners.

Strong serving and strategic net approaches paid off on both set point in the first set, which she converted with a volley winner, and her second match point, when a Jabeur pass sailed long.

Jabeur, who is loved in Abu Dhabi, was given a warm send-off as she exited the court, having come off one of her best performances of the season on Wednesday, when she dismantled Britain’s Emma Raducanu, 6-4 6-1 in her opening match.

“First of all, congratulations to Beatriz, she played a great game,” Jabeur said afterwards. “I wasn’t feeling 100 per cent, unfortunately, my knee still bothers me a bit.

“Today wasn’t to be my day. I was trying to fight and get through this match but when you play against someone who plays amazing like Beatriz, it’s tough to compete. I tried my best and tried to stay focused and play my game but unfortunately, I couldn’t.”

Jabeur then confirmed that it was a recurrence of an old knee injury that was bothering her during the match and that she had been dealing with it since before the tournament began.

“We go way back with the knee; some tournaments it’s good, some tournaments it’s bad,” the World No 6 added. “I’ve been feeling it for the past week but today was the worst day. Usually during practice I try to manage but during matches, it’s a bit tougher.”

The next focus, Jabeur said, is to get a diagnosis on her knee to see how it might affect her busy upcoming schedule.

The Tunisian is due to play in Doha and Dubai over the next 2 weeks, before heading to the United States for Indian Wells, the Miami Open, and her Charleston Open title defence – ‘if my knee holds up’.

“I’m a bit sad because I was starting to feel my game and feel good, and these injuries don’t help,” Jabeur continued.” The priority now is to find the solution to try and keep up and, hopefully, I can do it.”

Despite the disappointment, Jabeur took the opportunity to thank her fans for once again turning out in numbers at Zayed Sports City to cheer her on.

“I love how the people here cheer for me,” she said. “I always feel sad when I lose because I want to win in front of them, I want to win for the kids but that’s tennis. I try to do my best.”

Top seed Elena Rybakina took 64 minutes to dispatch lucky loser Cristina Bucsa on Friday and reach the Last 4

© Christopher Pike/Getty Images

The top-half semi-final sees Rybakina take on Samsonova, the No 8 seed from Russia, after both advanced in straight sets, the Kazakh dispatching Spanish lucky loser Cristina Bucsa, 6-1 6-4, while the Russian defeated Czech Barbora Krejcikova, the No 4 seed, 7-5 6-4.

Rybakina sailed through the first set for the loss of just 8 points, only for Bucsa’s ability to redirect pace earning her an early lead in the second, but the Russian-born Kazakh recovered to win 5 of the last 6 games.

The top seed faces a sterner test against Samsonova, who leads 4-0 against Rybakina at pro level in their head-to-head record, all on outdoor hard courts, including wins in the Montreal and Beijing semi-finals last year.

Heather Watson & Linda Noskova upset top seeds Nicole Melichar-Martines & Ellen Perez in the 1st round, then Shuko Aoyama & Aleksandra Krunic before receiving a walkover into the WTA 500 Abu Dhabi doubles final

© Christopher Pike/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Britain’s Heather Watson has reached the doubles final with her Czech partner, Linda Noskova, after the pair were given a walkover by Poland’s Magda Linette & Bernarda Pera from the USA.

They await the winners of the semi-final between Haddad Maia and her Brazilian compatriot Luisa Stefani and the American team of Sofia Kenin & Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who play on Saturday.



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