Simona Halep, the World No 4 and 2nd seed in Adelaide, was decisively defeated by Aryna Sabalenka in the quarter-finals on Thursday, paving the way for a Belarusian encounter with the young Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska, who dispatched Croat Donna Vekic.
I knew I would fight until the end, no matter what the score. When I was 5-0, I expected her to try her best to return to the match... I was not really disappointed after losing those two games. I am happy with this victory, especially against great fighters like Simona... Aryna Sabalenka
Prevailing 6-4 6-2 in just 69 minutes over the Romanian player, who had won in both their previous encounters in 2018, it is a big win for the 21-year old, ranked 12 and the 6th seed here.
Sabalenka finished 2019 strongly, winning the title at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open and the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai and, although she endured a personal tragedy during the offseason, losing her father, she produced impressive form to convincingly beat the reigning Wimbledon champion and former World No 1.
From 4-4 in the first set, Sabalenka won 7 consecutive games to build a 6-4, 5-0 lead, before she triumphed over the 2-time Grand Slam champion shortly thereafter.
“I knew I would fight until the end, no matter what the score. When I was 5-0, I expected her to try her best to return to the match,” Sabalenka said.
“I was not really disappointed after losing those two games. That helped me stay in the match and not lose my focus.
“I am happy with this victory, especially against great fighters like Simona and the great players.”
The Belarusian was on the verge of defeat in her first round against the always dangerous Hsieh Su-Wei, but she played more stable tennis against the American qualifier Bernarda Pera on Wednesday.
“After the first week in Shenzhen, I didn’t feel really good on the court. I am so happy to have received a wildcard here and have the opportunity to play some matches, especially before the Australian Open,” she continued.
“Every match is really important to me because I am finding this fighting spirit. It helps me a lot.”
Halep broke at the start, but Sabalenka reversed a 40-15 deficit in the next game to step back and came through some difficult games to take a 4-2 lead in the first set and securing it 6-4.
The No 6 seed only got stronger in the second, running to a 5-0 lead before Halep finally got herself on the scoreboard, and while the Romanian recovered one of the 2 breaks, Sabalenka proved too strong and broke once more to secure victory, striking 30 winners to only 10 unforced errors.
While Halep kept her stats clean with 6 unforced errors, she only managed 12 winners against her opponent’s unstoppable offence.
Sabalenka won her most recent encounter with her next opponent, the teenage Yastremska, and that was last summer at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose.
“She is doing very well. She is an aggressive player. Tomorrow she will be very fast there, but I like this game,” Sabalenka said.
“I think it’s interesting to see powerful players [on tour].
“We’ll see what happens. I can’t control the result, right? We can control ourselves. I will be there. I will fight for every point. Who knows what will happen.”
Yastremska, ranked 24, was thrilled to get past Vekic: “It’s nice to be in the semi-finals, just in the beginning of the year,” she said.
“I’m not playing my best game, but it’s still nice.
“I’m just getting my form. I have a big goal for Australia, but I’m going to try to stay really realistic and play match by match. That’s all I can think about.”
Last year’s 2019 Australian Open semi-finalist Danielle Collins crushed 4th seed Belinda Bencic, sending the Swiss out in barely an hour with 4 breaks of serve.
The 27th-ranked American will play Australian top seed Ashleigh Barty, who efficiently took out Marketa Vondrousova in her quarter-final match.
Brilliant Barty delivered a tactically astute performance to out-manoeuvre the No 8 seed, 6-3 6-3, in a rematch of last year’s Roland Garros final and now holds a 4-0 head-to-head lead over her.
She struck 20 winners and saved 6 of 7 break points over an hour and 21 minutes characterised first by a strategic masterclass and then by a champion’s instinct to rise to the occasion on the biggest points.
Vondrousova, playing her first tournament since Wimbledon after a 6-month hiatus involving wrist surgery, has impressed in her comeback this week but discovered facing the World No 1 is a very different proposition.
Time and again, Barty used short angles, pinpoint lobs and a biting slice to carve out space in the open court.
Her forehand was on song to finish most of these points with a flourish, while the 23-year-old’s best rallies were an array of all the varied shots in her repertoire.
“I feel my game is getting better and better,” Barty reflected.
“I could have been a bit more clinical in my game, but it was good to generate opportunities for myself.”
Barty now looks forward to taking on the big-hitting challenge of the in-form Collins, whom she beat on the way to her Paris trophy, and is expecting a battle in the semi-final on Friday.
“Danielle is an exceptional ball-striker, she can take the match right out of your hands,” she added.
“She plays extremely aggressive. I’ll need to put on my running shoes tomorrow!”