Brisbane | Sabalenka and Rybakina march on, as Azarenka upsets Ostapenko

On Friday, World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka outgunned Daria Kasatkina at the WTA 500 Brisbane International to win her 14th straight match in Australia, while Elena Rybakina, the 2nd seed, advanced when Anastasia Potapova retired after the first set, Victoria Azarenka upset Jelena Ostapenko in 3 sets and Linda Noskova stopped teenage prodigy Mirra Andreeva in her tracks.

With Jelena, sometimes you just have to put on a helmet, and try to stay in there. She's an incredible player and a Grand Slam champion, and she's proved many times she can beat anybody on any given day. The quality of tennis was incredible so to be able to go through, I'm very proud. She was blasting returns, blasting winners, so I had to stick in there. I was looking forward to seeing how my game was going to match up this year, and I think it's pretty good. Victoria Azarenka

Sabalenka needed an hour and 26 minutes to power past Kasatkina, the 5th seed from Russia, securing the Belarusian her spot in the semi-finals with a 6-1 6-4 win.

The defending Australian Open champion has dropped just 9 games over 3 matches so far this week in her first appearance in Brisbane.

She will next face No 8 seed Victoria Azarenka for the 5th time, Sabalenka owning a 3-1 head-to-head lead on her fellow Belarusian, which includes wins in the 2020 Ostrava final and their most recent meeting in the 2021 Montreal quarter-finals.

Kasatkina presented Sabalenka her most serious threat to date in Brisbane, but the Belarusian was up for the challenge and looked to be in great shape ahead of the Australian Open.

Sabalenka delivered 2 bagels over her 3 matches, but the Russian pushed her hard.

The World No 2 came through, striking 29 winners to 19 unforced errors over the course of the match, maintaining a positive ratio in both a dominant first set, with 14 to 8, and a tighter second set of 15 to 11.

Kasatkina made an unfortunate start to the match, digging herself into a hole with 4 double-faults across her first 2 service games, and 5 in the opening set in total, failing to hold serve in that act.

The Russian improved in the second, though, gritting out several holds and repeatedly pressuring Sabalenka on return, but the Belarusian proved to be clutch when it came to protecting her serve, coming through 3 deuces to hold for 2-2, and saving 3 break points with clean winners to hold for 3-3.

Sabalenka’s break point conversion rate was one of the few areas in which she did not excel, taking just 4 out of 7 chances overall.

Victoria Azarenka (L) needed 3 sets to upset Jelena Ostapenko and set up a meeting with Aryna Sabalenka in the Last 4 in Brisbane

© William West/AFP via Getty Images

Despite that, Sabalenka prevailed to take on 8th-seeded Azarenka in the semi-finals on Saturday, who took 2 hours and 30 minutes to outlast Ostapenko, 6-3 3-6 7-5, in the first match on Pat Rafter Arena.

The 34-year-old, who won Brisbane title in 2012 and 2013 and likes these conditions, took control early abd she pocketed the first set with one break of serve, but, as the match progressed, Ostapenko began to find her range, and deservedly levelled.

There was drama in the 3rd, when Ostapenko lashed out at the chair umpire, Julie Kjendlie, with the match evenly posed and tensions rising.

With Azarenka leading 5-4 in the final set, Ostapenko argued with the umpire in frustration disputing a double-bounce decision.

“You make so much mistake,” she was heard to say. “With three bounce. I never want you on my match again. You will never be on my match. You will never be on my match. I don’t want you on my matches. You ruin my match.”

Ostapenko also blamed Kjendlie for her 2019 Linz Open final defeat, suggesting that the match official played a role in that result.

“Final in Linz I will never forget. Never,” she added, referring to the match she lost to Gauff, 6-3 1-6 6-2.

Ostapenko has never been shy to voice her opinions, and last year, she said the fans at the Miami Open crowd were being disrespectful by cheering loudly for her opponent Beatriz Haddad Maia.

In Rome last season, she expressed her frustration against a call when she thought a ball from Kasatkina landed out.

Chair umpire Marija Cicak disagreed and pointed to the mark to prove her point, but the Latvian barely acknowledged it, and later was heard stating that Cicak would never take charge of her match again.

On Friday, the 2017 French Open champion, had been comfortable on serve in the decider, while Azarenka struggled to hold hers, but, at 5-6 and serving to send the set into a tiebreak, the Latvian cracked and a poor service game handed the Belarusian victory.

After the win, Azarenka said that she had been well-prepared to face Ostapenko and expressed satisfaction at progressing to the next round.

“With Jelena, sometimes you just have to put on a helmet, and try to stay in there,” said Azarenka, who served 16 aces in the encounter. “She’s an incredible player and a Grand Slam champion, and she’s proved many times she can beat anybody on any given day.

“The quality of tennis was incredible so to be able to go through, I’m very proud. She was blasting returns, blasting winners, so I had to stick in there.

“I was looking forward to seeing how my game was going to match up this year, and I think it’s pretty good.”

World No 4 Elena Rybakina won a set and advanced when Anastasia Potapova retired due to a stomach issue on Friday

© Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Kazakhstan’s Rybakina was then handed her spot in the Last 4 when Potapova, her Russian opponent, withdrew with a stomach problem after losing the first set 6-1.

The first 3 games went with serve before Rybakina broke for 3-1 after Potapova had led 40-15.

In the next game, the Kazakh held from 0-40, and on the ensuing changeover, the Russian laid on the court as the physio attended to her abdomen.

She played the next 2 games but withdrew after the 2022 Wimbledon champion took the first set.

The 11th seed came into the match having played 6 hours and 18 minutes of tennis across 2 rounds in wins over Aussie wild-card Daria Saville, taking 2 hour and 52 minutes, and then No 9 seed Veronika Kudermetova after 3 hours, 26 minutes.

“I wish Anastasia a speedy recovery, because she had a really tough battle yesterday [against Kudermetova],” Rybakina said after just 32 minutes on court “I’m just happy I get to play another match, but definitely not the way I wanted to win.”

Rybakina, the World No 4, hit 12 winners in the 7 games played, and so far has lost just 7 games in 5 sets in her 3 matches played.

19-year old Linda Noskova beat 16-year old Mirra Andreeva in a battle of teenage talent, and plays Elena Rybakina in the semi-finals on Saturday

© William West/AFP via Getty Images

The Kazakh will face 19-year-old Linda Noskova from the Czech Republic, who beat 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva from Russia, 7-5 6-3.

In what was the first all teenage quarter-final at a WTA 500 or higher since 2009, Noskova and Andreeva are both rising talents, and, on this occasion, it was the Czech who proved too powerful for the young Russian, who did not play poorly but was well beaten in the end.

Andreeva broke to start proceedings, but immediately dropped her own serve, and she had a further chance to go 3-2 up, but was unable to take it, and Noskova immediately responded to lead 4-2.

Further breaks ensued, as Andreeva went up 4-3 and 5-4, but Noskova stepped up her level when it mattered most and broke for 7-5 to seal the opening set.

The Czech’s serve improved in the second, and she fired 5 aces despite losing her serve at the start.

Without the constant breaks of serve, Andreeva couldn’t find a response, and unseeded Noskova took the match in straight sets to face Rybakina for a spot in Sunday’s final.

Noskova reached her first WTA final in Adelaide exactly one year ago, and has now reached the second WTA 500 semi-final of her career.



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