World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka was toppled in the 2nd-round of the bett1open in Berlin On Thursday, by Veronika Kudermetova, as was Coco Gauff, who fell at the hands Ekaterina Alexandrova, the two finalists at last week’s Libéma Open in ’s-Hertogenbosch, in the Netherlands.
Grass is not my favourite surface, but somehow I'm managing to play so well on it. And maybe the score looks easy, but it's never like that, because she played amazing. I needed to stay focused during every single point to keep it that way. I'm just hoping I can keep this form as long as I can. Ekaterina Alexandrova
Alexandrova was the defending champion, and she needed a 3rd-set tiebreak to fend off top seeded Kudermetova to successfully retain her Libéma Open title.
Coming into Berlin, both Russians had clearly found their feet on the grass, unlike Sabalenka and Gauff, who were trying to find theirs in the tune-up WTA 500 tournament ahead of Wimbledon.
A day after 2nd-seeded Elena Rybakina exited in the 2nd-round, Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion from Belarus, was beaten, 6-2 7-6(2), by Kudermetova, despite improving after an error-filled start, while Gauff lost 6-4 6-0 to Alexandrova.
“For me, it’s very important to play like that today,” Kudermetova said. “I always believe in myself. I know I can play really well, and I always believe.”
Both Sabalenka and Gauff were playing their first grass court tournament this year in their first outings since the French Open.
Kudermetova had beaten Sabalenka in the 2nd-round in Berlin last year, 2-6 7-5 6-4, and now boasts a Top 3 win on all three surfaces in her career, having beaten Jessica Pegula at the Mutua Madrid Open this spring, and Karolina Pliskova at the Western & Southern Open in 2020.
She broke Sabalenka 3 times in an hour 39 minutes, including twice in the first 4 games of the match to sprint out to a 4-0 lead.
Trailing 6-2, 4-2, Sabalenka won 3 straight games, looking to turn the match around, and later, at 6-5, she was 2 points away from pushing the match the distance at deuce on Kudermetova’s serve.
In the end, a commanding 6-1 start for Kudermetova in the tiebreak helped to push her over the line, having dropped her serve once across the match.
Kudermetova won 83% of her first-serve points to the Belarusian’s 76%, while she also won 61% of her second-serve points, and 62% points on return on the top seed’s serve.
Earlier, Alexandrova extended her winning streak to 7 matches with a 75-minute, straight sets upset of Gauff, the 5th-seeded American teenager.
Starting the day’s play, the Russian notched up her second Top 10 win of the year following her defeat of Belinda Bencic in Miami, and the 11th of her career overall.
The 28-year-old had lost to Gauff from 2 match points up in their only previous meeting, 7-6(3) 2-6 7-6(8), in the 1st-round of Dubai 2021, but, after falling behind 3-1 in the first set, she won 11 of the last 12 games to reach the Berlin quarter-finals for the second time in her career.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” said Alexandrova afterwards, when asked about her strong grass-court form. “Grass is not my favourite surface, but somehow I’m managing to play so well on it.
“And maybe the score looks easy, but it’s never like that, because she played amazing. I needed to stay focused during every single point to keep it that way. I’m just hoping I can keep this form as long as I can.”
Gauff made the brighter start, in which she showed off her excellent court coverage and net skills on her way to breaking Alexandrova for 3-1, but the Russian immediately broke her back and then won all 3 of the contest’s multi-deuce tussles to run away with the scoreboard.
The first was at 4-4 in the first set, when Gauff saved 4 break points with service winners, but a stellar volley from Alexandrova converted her 5th, and she duly served out the opener with little fuss.
The second opened with 2 tight games, and, in the first, Gauff found superb winners to fend off the first 3 break points, but was unable to reach game point herself, conceding the break with a netted forehand on the 4th break point, and although the American had two opportunities to break Alexandrova back immediately, she was stymied by solid serving from the Russian.
The 19-year old had her share of crowd-pleasing winners in the second set, but she was undone by a slew of cheap mistakes, including 27 unforced errors on the forehand side alone, while Alexandrova was rock-solid in executing her first-strike tennis to pull off the bagel.
In fact, Gauff had held the edge early on, with a 3-1 lead in the first set before losing 11 of the next 12 games as Alexandrova dominated.
The Russian, ranked 22, won 83% of her first-serve points to Gauff’s 54%, and while she struggled to win second-serve points, she still fared better than the American World No 7, winning 43% to the latter’s 40%.
She faced 5 break points in total, of which she saved 4, all in the second set, and she also converted 5 break points on her higher-ranked rival’s serve.
Next, Alexandrova and Kudermetova play each other again in a re-match of their Libéma Open showdown last week, for a place in the semi-finals against either Caroline Garcia or Petra Kvitova.
Maria Sakkari, the No 6 seed from Greece, joined Garcia and Kvitova as 1 of only 3 seeded players in the quarter-finals after she beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich from Belarus, 6-2 6-1 in barely an hour.
The Greek was in emphatic form out of the blocks, and did not allow her opponent to make any kind of headway, following up on her impressive win in the 1st-round against Alizé Cornet from France.
The 27-year-old started with a 3-0 lead, breaking in the 2nd game, and, with consistent shot-making and strong serving, she easily rode out the opener.
With high confidence and excellent reactions to all of Sasnovich’s attempts to mount a come-back, Sakkari took a 3-0 lead in the second, securing another break later on, and closing the match with an imposing score.
Sakkari won 78% of her first-serve points to Sasnovich’s 52%, while she saved all 4 break points she faced and converted all 4 break points that came her way on her opponent’s serve.
Marketa Vondrousova will be Sakkari’s quarter-final opponent at the Bett1 Open, after the Czech’s opponent, Germany’s Jule Niemeier, retired in their 2nd-round match.
The 2019 French Open finalist was leading 6-3, 6-5 when the German stopped the match after slipping and injuring herself.
After the intense opening set, which went Vondrousova’s way, both were giving it their all as the second seemed to be heading into a tiebreak, but Niemeier slipped awkwardly and fell to the ground, injuring her right wrist.
After receiving emergency treatment, the 23-year-old burst into tears, eventually confirming her retirement from the match.
A Wimbledon quarter-finalist last year, Niemeier’s campaign came to an unexpected and painful end, after having stunned 4th seed and defending champion Ons Jabeur in the opening round, beating her in straight sets, 7-6(4) 6-4.
During her on-court interview, Vondrousova extended her support to Niemeier.
“Yeah I mean, you know it’s a sad thing,” she said. “I think we played a great match and yeah, I was really enjoying playing on the Centre Court and I think she played a great match and yeah, this is not the ending that we wanted, but I hope she’s gonna get well and play some more tennis on grass.”