Madrid | Sabalenka to take on Rybakina in Last 4

On Wednesday, defending champion Aryna Sabalenka was in imperious form seeing off any possible challenge from the precocious Mirra Andreeva in securing her semi-final spot at the Mutua Madrid Open, where she will take on Elena Rybakina, who was distinctly lacklustre but prevailed over Yulia Putintseva after coming from a set down and saving 2 match points in the process.

We are going in wrong direction, there is a lot to improve on the circuit, and, last year, I wasted a lot of energy trying to change things. I realised that it is very difficult to do so, so I will just assume the rules, and do the best I can. For us, it’s very difficult schedule, that's for sure. Of course, people want to see quality matches. It’s not easy to perform when you are traveling so much, and you have week by week tournament. Elena Rybakina

In the first quarter-final of the day, Rybakina survived a real scare from her fellow Kazakh Putintseva, 4-6 7-6(4) 7-5, in a 2 hour and 48 minute battle.

“It was really tough,” Rybakina said. “I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I was hoping I’d start better… it wasn’t easy always coming back.

“At 2-5, I already left the emotions and frustration and just kept playing. The momentum shifted. Yulia started to get a bit more angry and some mistakes helped me. I just kept on playing.

“I’m really happy.”

Putintseva, ranked 50 in the world, looked to be on course to cause a huge upset as she put on a near-flawless performance to take the opening set in 45 minutes, and then led by an early break in the second before Rybakina, last week’s Stuttgart champion, mange to settle sufficiently to produce a volley winner to break back for 2-2.

Unusually edgy and erratic, Rybakina could find no rhythm against Putintseva’s mix of spins, paces and depth, and she allowed her frustration to spill over, which garnered her a code violation for slamming her racket into the ground towards the end of the second set.

Rybakina had lost twice to Putintseva, who clearly had the measure of the World No 4, and although the 24-year-old 4th seed produced 54 unforced errors, her strategy of moving forwards eventually paid off.

While Rybakina’s volley mistakes were plentiful, she was rewarded by just enough success at the net to keep herself in the contest, and it was volley winners that enabled her to sneak the eventual tiebreak just as her countrywoman lapsed into passivity.


The long and the short of a concluded quarter-final, Elena Rybakina (l) shakes hands with Yulia Putintseva on Wednesday

© Julian Finney/Getty Images

Both saved their finest tennis for the decider, and, initially, it was Putintseva who rebounded from the loss of the second set with her most proactive points of the day, producing a flurry of stellar drop-shots that left Rybakina flat-footed, and saw her leap out to a 5-2 lead.

Putintseva tried another drop-shot on her first match point, but Rybakina was alert to it and found a fine-angled counter-drop winner that just brushed the top of the net.

An ace swatted away the 2nd match point, and suddenly it was Rybakina who was in the zone, rattling off 7 straight points, and 19 of the next 23, firing winner after winner to take her total to 45.

It took Rybakina to triple match point of her own, and although she needed a 4th to get over the line, another booming service winner sealed it, leaving a frustrated Putintseva hammering her racket 4 times into the court behind the baseline and tossing the broken weapon behind her.

“I was not there with the legs, definitely, in the match,” Rybakina admitted later. “She’s a tough opponent. She’s a fighter, and she was playing well.

“In the third set it was very quick when I started to lose these three games in a row, 5-2 down. After that, I think, I just didn’t have any more emotions, no frustration or nothing. I was just going for every point. Was trying to do what I supposed to do, and then whatever happens happened. I won the match, so…”


Elena Rybakina is critical of the scheduling of two WTA 1000 tournaments held over two weeks in Madrid and Rome so close to the start of Roland Garros

Facebook/Mutua Madrid Open

Rybakina also raised her voice against the scheduling of the Madrid Open and the Italian Open, both 2-week long events, ahead of the 2024 French Open.

The Kazakh has spoken about the scheduling difficulties before.

“It may make sense for Indian Wells and Miami to have that duration, but to do it in these two events, shortly before Roland Garros…” Rybakina said at her press conference. “With the new rules, there is no room to choose, we are forced to compete in too many tournaments.

“We are going in wrong direction, there is a lot to improve on the circuit, and, last year, I wasted a lot of energy trying to change things,” she added. “I realised that it is very difficult to do so, so I will just assume the rules, and do the best I can.

“For us, it’s very difficult schedule, that’s for sure. Of course, people want to see quality matches. It’s not easy to perform when you are traveling so much, and you have week by week tournament,” she concluded.


Aryna Sabalenka dominated her quarter-final against Mirra Andreeva and won in straight sets on Wednesday night

© Julian Finney/Getty Images

Rybakina, who now owns a tour-leading 30 match wins on the season, against just 4 losses, will face Sabalenka on Thursday after the Belarusian beat 17-year-old Russian Mirra Andreeva, 6-1 6-4, in 79 minutes.

Sabalenka leads the pair’s head-to-head 5-3 on the WTA Tour, but their last meeting in the final of the 2024 Brisbane International went Rybakina’s way.

The World No 2, who is chasing a 3rd Madrid title, dominated throughout Wednesday’s night match, and did not drop serve in the straight sets encounter, her first all week after having to go the distance against Magda Linette, Robin Montgomery and Danielle Collins.

“I’m super happy with the level I played today, happy to get this win,” Sabalenka said. “[Andreeva] is an incredible player, even though she’s super young. Hopefully, I can keep going the way I’m going.

“It’s never easy if you get to the semi-finals. Elena [Rybakina] is a great player. We had so many great battles.

“It’s gonna be a tough challenge, but I’m happy to accept this challenge. Hopefully I’m gonna bring my best tennis,” the 25-year-old added.

Sabalenka effectively overpowered the 17-year-old, who was playing in her first WTA 1000 quarter-final, under the lights and closed roof of Manolo Santana Stadium.


17-year old Mirra Andreeva (R) won one more game off Aryna Sabalenka than she did last year

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

They last played 12 months ago, when Sabalenka ended the run of the newly minted 16-year-old with a 6-3 6-1 win in the 4th round on her way to winning the Madrid title.

Andreeva was riding a streak of 16 straight matches from a pair of W60 ITF Pro Circuit titles into the Round of 16 as a wild-card barely ranked inside the Top 200.

Since then, Andreeva, now ranked 43, has continued to turn heads on the game’s biggest stages, reaching the second week of Wimbledon and the 2024 Australian Open, stunning former World No 2 Ons Jabeur in straight sets at the latter.

Unseeded at the Caja Mágica, Andreeva, who recently hired coach Conchita Martinez, celebrated her 17th birthday with her 3rd upset of the week, following up wins over No 29 seed Linda Noskova and No 7 seed Marketa Vondrousova, with a straight-set win over No 12 seed Jasmine Paolini to book the Sabalenka rematch.

On Wednesday, though, Sabalenka repeated last year’s result in the quarters to extend her winning streak at the Caja Mágica to 10 straight matches.

The highly-anticipated contest went Sabalenka’s way from the start, as the 25-year-old tripled Andreeva’s winner count, 17 to 5, to win the first set with the loss of just one game.

The second went much the same way, with Sabalenka blasting a backhand put-away to break, and she soon found herself within 2 games of victory.

With her back to the wall, Andreeva made her biggest push of the match, digging out of a tight service game and pressuring Sabalenka on the return.

Sabalenka was strong in her response, turning the tables to hang on and engineering 2 match points, and although Andreeva saved them both and kept battling, the Belarusian was unfazed, striking an ace for a 3rd, this time on her own delivery, and she made no mistake as she out-rallied the young Russian to ease over the finish line in straight sets.

In all, she struck a whopping 35 winners to just 13 unforced errors, and made it through two sets without facing a single break point.


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