Berlin | Gauff, Sabalenka, Rybakina and Pegula get off the mark as Vondrousova slips

As Coco Gauff opened her grass court campaign with a win over Ekaterina Alexandrova at the ecotrans Ladies Open in Berlin on Thursday, Marketa Vondrousova slipped on the grass against Anna Kalinskaya and was forced to retire injured, putting her title defence at Wimbledon in jeopardy, while Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina and Jessica Pegula all safely got off the mark in straight sets to reach the Last 8.

 

I think she [Coco Gauff] likes slower surfaces. She likes to have her time. But a champion is always a champion. I'm sure she'll play unbelievable on grass. What I like more on grass is I can use my magic a little bit, the touch, the slices. I feel I can bother a little bit Coco with that. Ons Jabeur

Also in the quarter-finals is Ons Jabeur, who successfully battled past Linda Noskova, but Zheng Qinwen was upset by Katerina Siniakova.

Gauff, the top seed at the WTA 500 tournament in Berlin, recorded a 7-6(6) 6-2 win over Alexandrova, saving 3 set points in the first set before cruising through the second to finish in 80 minutes.

The Russian fought back from 2-4 down in the opener, and took matters into a tiebreak where the 20-year old American double-faulted to put Alexandrova 6-3 up, but the No 1 seed then denied her any further points in the set, aided by a double-fault from the Russian, a missed backhand flying wide, and a whiffed backhand return erasing Alexandrova’s set points, while another double-fault sealed the set for Gauff.

“When you’re down in those points in tiebreaks, I just tell myself just to get one, and then one point turns into two,” Gauff said. “I was just hoping she wouldn’t ace me on one of those points. I was just hoping I could get a ball in the court.”

Alexandrova had scored an emphatic 6-4 6-0 win over Gauff at the same stage of the competition last year, and Gauff believes that her latest win shows the progress she has made over the ensuing months.

“I’m a different player from last year,” she said after her win. “She’s a great player to play, especially on grass… so I knew it was going to be tough.”


Ons Jabeur demonstrated her grass court skills to mount a come-back against Linda Noskova and set up a Last 8 encounter with Coco Gauff on Friday

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Gauff advances to face Ons Jabeur, the 8th seed from Tunisia, who posted a 6-7(5) 6-3 6-4 win over 19-year old Linda Noskova of the Czech Republic.

Jabeur, the 2022 Berlin champion, was a set away from losing in the Last 16 before completing an impressive come-back win over Noskova, who is enjoying a career-high ranking of 28 in the world.

The lone breaks of the first set came early as Noskova broke Jabeur in the 2nd game, but the Tunisian instantly got the break back in the 3rd, and, before the set headed into a tiebreak, the Czech saved a break point in the 9th game.

Noskova opened up an early 3-0 lead in the breaker, then gained 3 consecutive set points at 6-3 before converting on her 3rd to pocket the very tight opener.

Now down by a set, Jabeur saved a break point in the 3rd game of the second, before she broke Noskova to go 3-1 up, and although the Czech managed to get level, the Tunisian broke again in the 8th game to open up a 5-3 lead, and routinely served out the set in the following game.

After forcing the decider, Jabeur began by breaking Noskova in the first game of the set, and that proved enough for the 3-time Grand Slam finalist to complete her come-back win as she routinely held onto her own delivery for the remainder of the match, in which she did not face a single break point.

Jabeur has hit the grass under the radar in a season in which her body has been her toughest opponent, causing her to slip to No 10 in the world, her lowest ranking in over 2 years, but her form and results are trending in the right direction, making the quarter-finals of four of her last 5 tournaments, including at Roland Garros and Madrid.

“I always say, the more matches I play on clay, the more physically better [I am], and easier the grass season is for me,” said Jabeur, “Because the toughest surface to play on in tennis is clay, because you have to be physically ready.

“But definitely, [Roland Garros] gave me a lot of confidence and made me understand a lot of things. I was blaming myself a lot at the beginning of the season, knowing that I was really injured. I didn’t know how much the injury affected my physical, but also my mind. Obviously, if you cannot step on your foot you’re not going to rip forehands.”

Jabeur admits she is still not 100%, and continues to manage the knee injury that has plagued her season.

The 29-year old now meets the reigning US Open champion Gauff for the 8th time in their careers, and although the American leads their head-to-head 5-2, Jabeur won their lone meeting on grass, which came in Berlin 2 years ago in the Last 4 en route to her winning the title in the German capital.

“I think she likes slower surfaces,” Jabeur said. “She likes to have her time. But a champion is always a champion. I’m sure she’ll play unbelievable on grass.

“What I like more on grass is I can use my magic a little bit, the touch, the slices. I feel I can bother a little bit Coco with that.”


No 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka (R) made short work of Daria Kasatkina in Berlin on Thursday

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Sabalenka, the No 2 seed from Belarus, made a dominant start to her grass court season, demolishing Daria Kasatkina, the World No 14 from Russia, 6-0 6-4 in her first grass match of the season to set up a quarter-final meeting against another Russian, Anna Kalinskaya, ranked 24, against whom she has a 3-1 head-to-head record.

The Belarusian got off to an outstanding start against Kasatkina, and did not allow the Russian a single break point in the first set.

Sabalenka also earned the first break of the second in the 5th game, but Kasatkina managed to get the break back to level at 4 games apiece, finally making a contest of it, only for the 2nd seed to calmly collect her 5th break of the match in the 9th game before converting her first match point on her own serve in the following game.

Having improved her record against Kasatkina to 7-2, Sabalenka now lines up Kalinskaya in her sights, who advanced when Marketa Vondrousova, the 5th-seed, retired due to a right hip injury.

The Czech was a surprise winner of her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon last summer, but she sustained a nasty fall behind the baseline when the 24-year-old was leading 5-3 in the opening set.

She got up gingerly, keeping hold of her right hip area, and immediately took an off-court medical time-out, returning with heavy strapping to play 2 more games, only to lose both, before shaking hands with Kalinskaya and conceding the match.

As is traditional for the defending champion, Vondrousova is set to play her opening match at the All England Club on Centre Court on 2 July, the 2nd day of The Championships, so she will have less than 2 weeks to recover ahead of her Wimbledon title defence.

Meanwhile, Kalinskaya progressed to the Last 8 to face Sabalenka.


Elena Rybakina, the 3rd seed, got past Veronika Kudermetova in 2 tight sets to make the Last 8 at the WTA 500 in Berlin

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Vondrousova’s predecessor as Wimbledon champion, Elena Rybakina, made it through to the quarter-finals with a 6-4 7-5 win over Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova.

Rybakina fought hard to sweep to a clinical win, and, after a solid start to the season, will be among the contenders at the culmination of the grass swing.

“I think, in the key moments, I served a little bit better, and some better decisions, here and there,” Rybakina said on court. “But it was a close match.”

Having gained her 10th quarter-final of the season, Rybakina goes on to face former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka on Friday, and a win would secure her first grass-court semi-final since she won Wimbledon in 2022.

Rybakina kept the heat on Kudermetova throughout their 1 hour and 33 minute match, generating 11 break points while facing just 3 on her own serve.

The Russian-born Kazakh broke first to snatch a 2-0 lead early on, but she was broken back when she served for the set at 5-3, only to respond with her second break of the match to claim the opener.

Kudermetova built a 3-1 lead early in the second, but found Rybakina just would not go away, and the Kazakh 3rd seed closed out the win by levelling the set and then, with the Russian serving to force a tiebreak, she broke for a 4th time to seal a spot in her first Berlin quarter-final.

Rybakina ended the match with a tally of 18 winners, including 5 aces, to 16 unforced errors, playing an aggressive game that paid off, while she improved her record against Kudermetova to a dominant 5-0.

She will be out for a repeat against Azarenka, against whom she is also undefeated at 4-0.


Jessica Pegula got her Berlin campaign under way with a straight sets win over defending champion Donna Vekic on Thursday

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Meanwhile, Jessica Pegula, the 4th-seeded American, seized a 6-4 7-5 win over Donna Vekic from Croatia, the defending champion in Berlin, and a former World No 19.

After the opening 9 games of the match, only one break point had been seen, which Pegula failed to convert but still led 5-4.

Pegula’s next chance came at the best possible time when she broke the Croatian as the 27-year-old was serving to stay in the first set.

Up by a set, Pegula had a further chance to go up by an early second-set break, but couldn’t make it, and, after escaping, Vekic got her first break of the match to go 3-2 up.

Unfortunately, Vekic’s second-set lead was short-lived as Pegula levelled at 4-4, and while the Croatian had another opportunity to go up a break, she couldn’t convert, and the 4th-seeded American moved 5-4 ahead.

Vekic managed to serve out the 10th game to stay in the match, but she couldn’t manage a repeat next time round, and Pegula converted her 3rd match point to complete the two-set win after 89 minutes.

For a place in the semi-final, Pegula will play the current World No 30, Katerina Siniakova, who upset 6th-seeded Zheng Qinwen from China, 6-4 6-4.

The Czech qualifier recorded her 2nd Top 10 win of 2024, and her 10th overall, with her straight-sets defeat of the 21-year old Chinese, who is ranked No 8 in the world.

Siniakova has now won both of her grass-court meetings with Zheng, having also won in the 1st-round of Wimbledon 2023.


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