Both Ons and Maria Sakkari, the top seeds at the bett1open in Berlin, came through their respective quarter-finals with differing degrees of difficulty on Friday.
Grass court fits my game, of course, because I improved my serve, but I'm a very good mover and that plays a huge role on this surface. I'm very pleased that I had the right game plan. I went for it, I was very aggressive, and I really enjoyed it. Maria Sakkari
While Sakkari effectively demolished Daria Kasatkina to set up a semi-final meeting with Belinda Bencic, Jabeur needed 3 sets to get past Aliaksandra Sasnovich, and will face Coco Gauff, who has reached the Last 4 on grass for the first time.
Sakkari, the World No 6 and 2nd seed here, was at her impressive best as she dismantled Kasatkina, 6-0 6-3, in just 72 minutes.
“The first set was close to perfect,” Sakkari said later. “I was very disciplined with my shot selection, with my game in general. I always struggled to play against her, obviously, but today I was very decisive.
“I had made up my mind what to do and I just went for it.
“Grass court fits my game, of course, because I improved my serve, but I’m a very good mover and that plays a huge role on this surface.”
Kasatkina had dropped first sets in her previous 2 matches this week before making come-back wins, but she could not find her way past Sakkari’s power hitting.
Seeking to take control of each rally as soon as possible, Sakkari was quick to sense a chance to finish off points with her forehand, or at the net, and, as a result, struck 27 winners to only 7 for Kasatkina, while also keeping her unforced error count down to 16 against 11 for her opponent.
“I’m very pleased that I had the right game plan. I went for it, I was very aggressive, and I really enjoyed it,” added Sakkari, who has won 3 straight matches for the first time since March and her run to the Indian Wells final.
Sakkari went into the encounter 0-4 down against Kasatkina, but the Greek got off to a stunning start, breaking 3 times to easily win the first set, despite facing a couple of break points in the 4th game, which she saved, before ‘bagelling’ the Russian.
She broke again to open the second, and although Kasatkina struck back immediately to end the Greek’s run of 7 consecutive games, the 6th seed continued to struggle on her serve as Sakkari broke yet again in the 3rd game.
Kasatkina dug deep, and managed to claw the break back to level at 3 games apiece, now presenting more of a challenge, but Sakkari struck out again, claiming back-to-back breaks to complete her impressive straight sets win.
Sakkari will meet Bencic next, to whom she has never lost, but the two have not played each other since 2020.
The 26-year old is looking to win her first grass court title in Berlin this week.
Bencic, the Swiss Olympic champion, beat another Russian, Veronika Kudermetova, 3-6 6-3 6-3, after a 2 hour 15 minute battle.
Both Kasatkina and Kudermetova, as well as Sasnovich, are playing as ‘neutrals’ because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Bencic, seeded 8 here, was last year’s bett1open runner-up and had lost to Kudermetova just last week in the ‘s-Hertogenbosch quarter-finals, but the Swiss avenged that defeat on Friday to claim a narrow 5-4 lead in their head-to-head record.
Converting 6 of her 11 break points, Bencic held off Kudermetova, despite coughing up 7 double-faults and withstanding 6 aces from the World No 24.
After splitting the first two sets, Bencic controlled the decider up to 5-2, but she then failed to convert 2 match points on her own serve and Kudermetova held 2 game points at 5-3 to pull within one break.
Bencic, ranked 17, eventually prevailed on her 4th match point to seal the deal and advance to face Sakkari on Saturday.
Meanwhile, top seed Jabeur had to come back from a set and a break down to earn her win over Sasnovich after a 1 hour 26 minute quarter-final.
Sasnovich, ranked 38, has now pushed Jabeur to 3 sets in each of their 3 meetings, but the Tunisian has come out on top of all of these encounters.
Now at a career-high ranking of 4 in the world, Jabeur has won 28 matches so far this season, more than any player, other than World No 1 Iga Swiatek.
On Friday, she struck 19 winners to Sasnovich’s 15, and came away with 6 fewer unforced errors than the Russian.
Sasnovich came from 5-2 down in the first set, eventually reeling off the final 4 points of the tiebreak to squeak out a one-set lead before breaking Jabeur in the first game of the second.
Jabeur turned the match around from there, though, finding deep, powerful returns to pick up 6 of the next 7 games and claim the second set.
Now level, the Tunisian top seed cracked the 3rd set open from there with a break for 4-2 and held on, hitting a ‘tweener’ for good measure in the last game.
Jabeur will face Gauff, the 7th-seeded American, who has won 3 of their prior 4 meetings with the Tunisian, but this will be their first contest on grass.
In their most recent match, Gauff ousted Jabeur in the Round of 16 at 2021 Roland Garros, where she went on to reach the final, eventually losing to Swiatek.
The 18-year old continues to impress with her rise up the rankings, where she now sits at No 13.
Gauff defeated Wimbledon finalist Karolina Pliskova, 7-5 6-4, on Friday, fighting back from 2-0 down at the start of each set against the big-serving Czech, seeded 4, as well as saving 4 set points in the first set.
Pliskova missed the first two months of this season when she broke her arm in an accident while training in the gym.
“I’m super happy with how I played today,” Gauff said later. “Playing her on grass, with her serve, how flat she hits the ball, it was really tough to be honest.
“A first semi-final on grass is pretty cool, and also I feel, like, the opponents I’ve played this week haven’t been easy, especially today, so I’m proud of myself about that.”
At 5-4 in the opener, Pliskova, ranked 7, hit a stunning forehand winner down the line to garner 2 set points, but Gauff used excellent serves and deft slices to ward them and 2 more off, before holding for 5-5 after a 15-minute game.
Gauff’s determination paid off immediately, as she broke Pliskova in the very next game with a backhand winner down the line, and the American maintained the momentum at 6-5, serving out the set to love.
The Czech, playing her first match against a Top 20 player this season, started the second with a 2-0 lead, but Gauff quickly pulled back on serve with a passing winner.
Another lengthy game at 4-4 went Gauff’s way, as she converted her 4th break point and grabbed a chance to serve out the win, and the 18-year-old American grabbed her chance, slamming her 5th ace of the day to polish off the match.
Already in uncharted territory in her first quarter-final on grass, Gauff admitted that she had needed some time to find her rhythm, and found the answer by mixing up her shots to include more slices.
“It was really tough to be honest,” she said. “I had to come up with a couple of different game styles that I normally don’t use, but sometimes it’s like that.”