Belinda Bencic, the Olympic champion, improved her record against Caroline Garcia, the WTA Finals champion, to 2-0 when the Swiss posted an impressive 6-2 3-6 6-4 win over the Frenchwoman in the last match of Day 4 at the Adelaide International 2 WTA 500 tournament.
It's a rollercoaster, that why guys who can stay top 10 for 10 years, or the whole of their careers, it's amazing. I feel myself to keep this level is so difficult. Once you get relaxed, everything goes away. A career is a very long time but at the same it’s really short. I hope I can keep this level. Every day I’m trying to back up, you can’t really relax. Daria Kasatkina
Both produced impeccable serving, Garcia firing 11 aces and won 77% of her first serve points, while Bencic sent down 9, and won 78% of her first deliveries, and, as a result, each set was decided by the finest of margins.
The Swiss 8th seed was able to read the Garcia serve perfectly in the first set, using deep returns to draw errors from the Frenchwoman’s forehand, but the 5th seed struck back in a flawless second, in which she did not drop a point behind her first delivery.
Bencic moved out to a 3-1 lead in the third before being pegged back to 3-3, but leading 5-4, the Swiss went up a gear on defence, scrambling around the court to keep the ball in play.
She saved game point with her best shot of the match, a backhand pass down the line, and converted match point by drawing a Garcia error with a forehand down the line.
“The key was, for sure, to hold the serve,” said Bencic. “I think we both served great, and it’s tough to return against Caroline.
“At times, I felt I was playing Russian roulette. She’s stepping in a lot, I’m also holding my baseline, and it was a battle of who can do it better.
“If you see her court position, [the body serve] is the most logical thing to do. I know how it feels, because I also stand very far inside the baseline.
“It’s a little tactical, but you still have to make a good serve. We didn’t have many rallies, so it was about mentally keeping the focus up.”
Earlier on Thursday, 6th-seeded Veronika Kudermetova pulled off a remarkable comeback against Danielle Collins, saving 5 match points in the second set before dominating the No 10 seed from America, 4-6 7-6(5) 6-1 in the quarter-finals.
In the Last 4, the Russian will resume her long-standing rivalry with Bencic, the No 8 seed.
Kudermetova pulled herself back from the brink of defeat against last year’s Australian Open finalist, who had kept her nose in front throughout the tight first set and most of a second, but the World No 9 fended off 5 match points as Collins failed to serve it out at 5-4 and on her own delivery at 5-6.
She saved 2 with service winners, and another with a sizzling forehand winner, while Collins missed the remaining 2 with forehand errors.
When things went into the tiebreak, Collins went up 4-1 but let her lead slip via a flurry of errors, and when Kudermetova, the WTA Finals doubles champion, demonstrated her net skills to come out on top of a rat-a-tat net exchange, she had converted her first set point.
Despite the scoreline, the decider was closely contested, with Kudermetova coming through 3 multi-deuce tussles as she gradually extended her lead.
The 25-year-old had raised her first serve percentage from 50% in the first set to 71% in the second, and 57% in the third, but by the closing stages, Collins had moved away from her usual power tactics to incorporate drop-shots and slices, which had little effect on Kudermetova’s momentum.
A pair of double-faults nearly landed Kudermetova in trouble in the final game, but she made up for those with service winners that staved 2 break points off, and converted her 2nd match point.
As the match wore on, first serve percentages became crucial, with Collins landing just 52 per cent compared to Kudermetova’s 61 per cent as the Russian claimed 48 points to 31 from this source, while in the decider, was 13 to 6 in favour of Kudermetova.
In the semi-final, Kudermetova and Bencic will be facing off for the 10th time at pro level in a rivalry that goes back to their junior days, with the Swiss leading the head-to-head 5-4, including 2 out of their 3 encounters last year.
In the lower half of the draw Daria Kasatkina, the 5th seed from Russia, claimed her second straight win over a Grand Slam champion to reach the semi-finals after defeating two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, 6-3 7-6(3), just a day after her win over former Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova, both Czechs.
“We were both dropping serve early, once I started to hold the game changed a bit,” Kasatkina said on court “Overall I was really happy with my performance, and I kept my composure in the breaker.”
There were 6 service breaks in the first set, but Kasatkina had only 6 unforced errors in the opener, while Kvitova was undone by 27 miscues.
In the second, Kvitova rebounded to claim the first break for a 4-3 lead, but Kasatkina immediately broke back at love.
The Czech lefthander’s powerful groundstrokes erased 2 match points at 6-5, but the Russian leapt to a 6-3 lead in the breaker to earn 3 more chances, and Kasatkina only needed the first when Kvitova sent her forehand wide to close out the match.
“It was a hurricane inside after losing the [6-5] game, after being just one point away from the win,” Kasatkina admitted on court afterwards. “But I knew with Petra it doesn’t matter the score, you have to always be ready for everything, because she’s fighting until the end and she’s very aggressive.
“You get a few winners [by Kvitova] and she’s back. So I’m really happy with my performance, the way I was able to keep my focus with the tiebreak, of course.
“I’m not that powerful, or big, so I have to win a different way. I need to keep thinking really fast on the court, and be moving.”
The 25-year-old Russian, who reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros last year before winning two hard court titles in August, is now making her 11th Last 4 appearance since her career resurgence began at the start of 2020.
A Top 10 player 4 years ago before plummeting down the rankings and almost giving up the sport, Kasatkina said she was looking to maintain her consistency after finishing 2022 well and making a decent start to the new season.
“It’s a rollercoaster, that why guys who can stay top 10 for 10 years, or the whole of their careers, it’s amazing,” she said. “I feel myself to keep this level is so difficult.
“Once you get relaxed, everything goes away.
“A career is a very long time but at the same it’s really short,” Kasatkina added. “I hope I can keep this level. Every day I’m trying to back up, you can’t really relax.”
Her next opponent Paula Badosa, the World No 11, won a titanic battle with Beatriz Haddad Maia, 7-6(5) 7-5, in a match that lasted beyond two-and-a-half hours, and which involved long rally exchanges throughout.
“I know she’s a fighter, so I knew it would be a very long match,” Badosa said. “She doesn’t give up.
“She is where she deserves to be on the rankings, so I’m thrilled to get past her.
“It was a very physical match, and mentally challenging. We served big and tried to go for our aggressive shots all the time.
“I think we served big, we tried to go for the points, but she was moving very well. I think I was the same.
“It was very tough, but I knew I had to go aggressive on the break points, and when I had my opportunities, that’s what I did.”
Badosa held an early 4-2 lead in the opening set, but Haddad Maia slammed a forehand winner down the line to pull back on serve at 5-4 and there were no further breaks as it moved into the decisive tiebreak, where the Spaniard struck an ace to lead 6-2 and held 4 set points.
Big hitting by Haddad Maia helped her fend off the first 3, but Badosa converted her 4th chance with a crosscourt winner.
The gruelling 74-minute first set was followed by an even longer 81-minute second and the Spanish No 1 edged the top-ranked Brazilian at the tail end of both.
Haddad Maia staved off the first 5 break points she faced in the second, but Badosa achieved success by firing a backhand winner down the line to break for 6-5, and then converted on her 2nd match point in the next game to close out the lengthy clash.
Badosa finished the day with 8 more winners and one fewer unforced error than Haddad Maia, and the Spaniard has now won 9 of her last 11 matches against left-handed opposition.
She is seeking her first title since exactly a year ago, when she won her 3rd career Hologic WTA Tour title in Sydney.
Speaking about her next opponent, Kasatkina, Badosa said: “Totally different match against Kasatkina, but I’ll have to run, and work all day again. I need to be patient and keep calm.”