Top seeds Ons Jabeur and Aryna Sabalenka made it into the semi-finals of the WTA 500 Adelaide International 1 on Friday, where they will meet Linda Noskova and Irina-Camelia Begu respectively.
Today was a more difficult match for sure, but it's the beginning of the season. Everyone is hungry to win. I'm trying to maintain my stature as the top seed, No 2 in the world. I had some difficulties, but I'm glad I'm accepting certain points that the other player is making. They're challenging me. I'm glad I'm accepting that they can play good as well, which is something that was hard to do before. Ons Jabeur
First up was Sabalenka, the World No 5 from Belarus, who held off Marketa Vondrousova, 6-3 7-5, in the hot conditions, taking an 1 hour 34 minutes to get past the Czech, and continuing her strong 2022 late-season form, which she finished as runner-up at the WTA Finals.
“It was a tough match, and she fought until the end, and I was really happy I was able to win this match,” Sabalenka said. “I think, because I’m staying really calm, and I feel like I’m at home here, that’s why I play really well.
“I haven’t dropped a set yet. Hopefully I’ll keep going like that.”
The 2nd-seed staved off a late fight-back from the former French Open runner-up, having broken for 3-2 in the first set and then closing it out on her 15th winner.
A double break in the second put her 4-1 ahead before Vondrousova battled back, only to be denied as the Belarusian regrouped to take the match.
The big-hitting Sabalenka had been bossing the opening quarter-final, and was leading 40-0, when things got complicated, and she lost 4 of the next 5 games.
She failed to convert a match point before righting the ship in the latter stages, seeing off Vondrousova’s late challenge for the win, although she had to save 2 break points in the last game of the match, and saved 6 of the 8 against her overall.
In the high quality match, Sabalenka hammered 38 winners to 26 unforced errors, while the crafty Vondrousova totalled 17 winners to just 10 miscues.
Gone were the serving yips, which plagued the Belarusian’s Australian summer last year as she booked her semi-final berth.
“Well I had a really tough year last year, and I worked a lot on my serve, and it’s finally working,” Sabalenka said. “[It’s] a little bit easier to play.
“But yeah, trying to focus on my serve and trying to stay calm no matter what happens.”
It was Sabalenka’s 4th straight win over Vondrousova, the Tokyo Olympic silver medalist, and her 2nd straight triumph against the Czech Down Under, having beaten her last year in the 3rd-round of the Australian Open.
Up next for Sabalenka is Begu, a Romanian ranked 34, who defeated Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova, the 4th seed, 7-5 6-4.
In the top half of the draw, and at the end of Day 6’s play, Jabeur secured her place in the Last 8 after a stern test from Ukrainian qualifier Marta Kostyuk on Friday night, 7-6(5) 7-5.
The Tunisian was pushed throughout by the Ukrainian, but proved more consistent when it came to the crunch.
“You know, I didn’t start the way I wanted, and she was playing really well, defending good, playing fast and, for me, I was telling myself just to put two or three balls in to get into the game,” Jabeur said. “A little bit of experience, I know, is going to be much better, but I’m pretty happy I didn’t go three sets.”
Kostyuk had never beaten a Top 10 opponent in 9 previous attempts, but she came off an impressive win over Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina on Wednesday.
The 20-year-old made the faster start against Jabeur, jumping out to a 4-1 lead before the Tunisian began to weave her web and reeled her back in.
“Today was a more difficult match for sure, but it’s the beginning of the season,” Jabeur said. “Everyone is hungry to win.
“I’m trying to maintain my stature as the top seed, No 2 in the world.
“I had some difficulties, but I’m glad I’m accepting certain points that the other player is making. They’re challenging me.
“I’m glad I’m accepting that they can play good as well, which is something that was hard to do before.”
In the tiebreak, Jabeur’s pressure drew a string of erratic shots from Kostyuk, and she clinched the set after 51 minutes.
Neither player could consolidate early in the second, and 6 straight breaks of serve ensued.
Match point slipped from Jabeur’s grasp as Kostyuk made a late push with some inspired shot-making, keeping the contest alive and serving at 4-5.
Two games later, though, the Tunisian landed the crucial break and, with it, a showdown against another qualifier, Noskova.
The 18-year-old earlier advanced to her first WTA 500-level semi-final, saving a match point en route to an upset of two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka from Belarus.
The 3-hour triumph marked the World No 102’s 5th straight win in Adelaide in only her 6th tour-level event.
Noskova is having a phenomenal week here, coming through qualifying with wins over Ukraine’s Anna Kalinskaya and Anastasia Potapova from Russia, and then scoring even more impressive wins over Daria Kasatkina, the Russian 3rd seed, American Claire Liu, and now Azarenka.
“I definitely didn’t expect to play semi-finals with wins over Kasatkina or Azarenka,” laughed Noskova, who will present Jabeur with a tricky task on Saturday. “I just came here for qualies. I don’t know what I’m doing here!
“I’m just really enjoying the conditions. They’re on my side, I would say. The ball is really fast so that’s just another positive thing for my game, and I’m just using that.”
In a hard-fought match that lasted nearly 3 hours, Noskova and Azarenka combined for 90 winners between them.
After taking the opening set by overpowering Azarenka, the two-time Australian Open champion struck back, taking hold of the momentum by increasing her aggression, and matching Noskova’s power.
The final set saw Azarenka’s competitive streak on full display as she saved 5 break points in her opening service game to hold, and then fended off another 2 in her next delivery to stay with the Czech.
Noskova finally broke through to earn a chance to serve out the win, but the former World No 1 broke back again with ease to level the set at 5-5.
Serving to force a tiebreak, it was Noskova’s turn to serve under pressure and, down 30-40, the young Czech fired a big ace down the tee and followed it up with 2 clean winners to hold to 6-6.
In the deciding tiebreak, Noskova’s ground game won out and she closed out the win on her 2nd match point after 2 hours and 58 minutes.