Abu Dhabi | Kasatkina to meet Rybakina in final

Top seed Elena Rybakina beat Liudmila Samsonova for the first time in the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open semi-final, setting up a meeting with Daria Kasatkina in Sunday’s final, who edged her way past Beatriz Haddad Maia earlier on Saturday in another marathon 3-setter, and then blasted organisers over scheduling.

I have a question, I don't know to who, to WTA or the tournaments, like, are you guys trying to make players die, or to get injured often? I might have to fly Monday and step on the court the same day, after playing five matches here at the highest level. So, I'm sorry, but that's something we have to talk about and consider. Daria Kasatkina

Rybakina, a former Wimbledon champion, snapped Samsonova’s winning streak over her by scoring her first win in 5 attempts, 6-0 4-6 6-2.

“It was a really tough battle and I’m really happy that I managed to win in the end,” Rybakina said on court. “I started pretty well, and a few shots went my way. But in the second set, focus and energy went down. Liudmila always plays very aggressive, so it’s not easy to play against her.”

Earlier, Kasatkina, the 7th seed from Russia, also shook off a mid-match blip to move into her second final of the year with a 6-3 4-6 7-6(2) win over Haddad Maia in an absorbing contest lasting nearly three hours.

“Beatriz is a huge fighter, one of the biggest on tour,” Kasatkina said after an 83-minute final set. “Her level of giving everything on court is just incredible. She was not giving me anything for free. I had to earn this.

“Really happy and a bit exhausted, but it was a great match. I hope everyone enjoyed it.”

She later took aim at the WTA over the recurring scheduling issue after learning that she is set to play her 1st-round match at the Qatar TotalEngeries Open in Doha on Monday.

“It’s terrible scheduling, honestly,” Kasatkina said. “I don’t know how you can schedule the finals of the tournament on Sunday, wanting to finish the next tournament on Saturday, so you start it on Sunday, and, like this, the player, if like me, you don’t have a bye in Doha, I have to play on Monday. And I play finals [here in Abu Dhabi] tomorrow [Sunday] at 5pm.

“We don’t have yet this technology that I can just do like this [snapping fingers] and be in Doha in five seconds.”

Although the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are neighbouring countries, players still have to take a 1 hour flight to reach Doha from Abu Dhabi, and then get themselves set up in the hotel.

“I have a question, I don’t know to who, to WTA or the tournaments, like, are you guys trying to make players die, or to get injured often?” Kasatkina continued. “I might have to fly Monday and step on the court the same day, after playing five matches here at the highest level.

“So, I’m sorry, but that’s something we have to talk about and consider.”


Beatriz Haddad Maia had her chances against Daria Kasatkina but lost in the deciding set breaker in Saturday's semi-final in Abu Dhabi

© Ryan Lim/AFP via Getty Images

Facing Haddad Maia for the third time in their careers, Kasatkina dominated the 43-minute opening set by breaking the Brazilian’s serve 4 times.

Haddad Maia turned the tables in the second, though, taking advantage of more passive play from Kasatkina to take the match into a decider.

In the 84-minute final set, Kasatkina found herself down a break, twice, but refused to let Haddad Maia build up any momentum, and, after getting back on serve at 3-3, the Russian saved a total of 4 break points down the stretch to force a deciding tiebreak.

In the breaker, Kasatkina outlasted Haddad Maia in a lengthy exchange to move up 2-0, and then she broke open the scoreline with a perfect defensive lob to extend her insurmountable lead, and score her first win in three attempts over the Brazilian.

“Really happy with the way I got this win,” Kasatkina said afterwards. “She was not giving me anything for free, I had to earn it so much.

“The tiebreak, I gave it everything. I went for it, and really appreciate it for myself, because for me, it’s not easy to play this way, especially in circumstances like this, where it’s so important. Really happy about it.”

Kasatkina finished the match with 44 winners to 37 unforced errors, outpacing Haddad Maia’s 31 winners and 38 miscues.

The 2 hour and 59 minute win put Kasatkina into her second WTA Tour final of the season, having made her first in Adelaide last month, while she scored her first over a Top 20 opponent since defeating No 18 Karolina Pliskova at Eastbourne last summer.


Top seed Elena Rybakina was flawless in the first set but had to fight hard to defeat Liudmila Samsonova in the Last 4 on Saturday

© Christopher Pike/Getty Images

Later in the day, Rybakina, made a fast start against her former compatriot, Samsonova, fairly romping through a a routine bagel first set in 25 minutes, hitting zero unforced errors and never facing a break point, but then she had to battle hard to collect her first win over the Russian.

A finalist in Abu Dhabi 12 months ago, Samsonova brought an astounding 4-0 head-to-head domination into the second semi-final of the day, having never lost to Rybakina in all 4 of their previous encounters.

The 8th-seed had other ideas on this occasion too, slamming a forehand winner down the line to break Rybakina in the opening game of the second set, and she moved ahead 4-1 by mixing up her power game with deft drop-shots before levelling at a set apiece to keep her hopes alive of a 5th win over the Moscow-born Kazakh.

She held that lead all the way through the set to tie up the match, but in the third, Rybakina took control for good by reaching triple break point at 2-1, then earning the critical break off of an inopportune Samsonova double-fault.

The World No 5 ramped up the pressure, drawing more errors from Samsonova at 5-2, and a netted forehand from the Russian set up 2 match points, but the Kazakh only needed one as she forced a backhand miss from her opponent to edge over the finish line, clinching one more break for good measure to close out the victory, and wrapping up the contest after an hour and 51 minutes.

Rybakina finished with an equal amount of winners and unforced errors, 15 of each, while Samsonova had more winners, with 22, but that was compounded by her 44 unforced errors.

Now waiting for Rybakina on Sunday is Kasatkina.

“A complete different style of the game. Tomorrow isn’t going to be easy,” Rybakina added. “I have to have really good footwork and play aggressively.”

The big-serving Kazakh dropped down two spots to No 5 in the rankings after her shock early exit in Melbourne, but the 24-year-old now will rise to World No 4 on Monday, irrespective of her result on Sunday.

Rybakina’s next goal is to add to her trophy collection, having won the WTA 500 in Brisbane in the opening week of the season, and she now has the chance of joining Jelena Ostapenko as a multiple champion of 2024 on the WTA Tour.

Rybakina and Kasatkina have split their 4 lifetime meetings, with the Kazakh prevailing in their most recent meeting, squeaking past the Russian, 5-7 7-5 7-6(8), in last year’s Montreal quarter-finals.


Liudmila Samsonova held a 4-0 record against Elena Rybakina but lost their 5th meeting in Abu Dhabi

© Christopher Pike/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Britain’s Heather Watson made it into the doubles final with her Czech partner, Linda Noskova, after the pair received a walkover from Poland’s Magda Linette & Bernarda Pera from the USA.

On Sunday they will meet Americans Sofia Kenin & Bethanie Mattel-Sands, whose opponents, Haddad Maia & Lucia Stefani from Brazil also withdrew ahead of their semi-final.


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

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