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Mertens prevails as Collins upsets Rybakina

Top seed Elise Mertens saved two set points before getting past Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic on Friday, while America’s No 7 seed Danielle Collins upset 2nd-seeded Elena Rybakina Kazakh to also move into the final four. 

I came here not really expecting this. Like, if I go through qualifying, into the main draw, it would be nice, just to be at high-level tournaments again. So this was kind of unexpected, but I’m not complaining at all! Ana Konjuh

Also through are Russia’s No 4 seed Daria Kasatkina, who survived a tough test from Magda Linette from Poland, and qualifier Ana Konjuh after the Croatian overcame China’s Zhang Shuai in an earlier quarter-final on Stadium Court.

Mertens fended off Putintseva, the No 8 seed, 6-3 7-6(8), to set up a semi-final meeting with Kasatkina, who outlasted Linette, 6-4 3-6 6-4, while Konjuh’s 3-6 6-2 6-0 win over Zhang pitches her against Collins, a 7-6(5) 7-6(4) winner over Rybakina.

“I just tried to look at it point by point, as it was very important to get a good tactical game against her,” Mertens told the media, after her match. “Also to get the first strike, to get her on the run. I think that’s what I did.

“I tried to not make as many mistakes as [in the second round] yesterday, but find the balance of it better than yesterday, to play more aggressively and get more into the court.”

The World No 17 needed just shy of 2 hours to quell the challenge from 35th-ranked Putintseva, reclaiming the lead in their rivalry by collecting her second win in their three meetings.

What started out as a bit of a romp turned into a cliffhanger as Mertens took the first 4 games before Putintseva pried her way into the Belgian’s mind with her crafty, mercurial play.

“Today was definitely a mental game,” admitted Mertens, who enjoys crossword puzzles in her spare time.

The Kazakh broke at 0-4 and fought off a break point at 1-4 as she found her way back into contention.

Although Mertens closed out the set and served for the match at 5-4 in the second, she was undone after a flurry of fiery play by Putintseva that allowed the Kazakh to pull back level.

Rattled after being just 2 points away from victory, Mertens’ game fell passive and Putintseva carved two fine sliced backhands, lofted a two-hander high and deep, then stepped into the court to blister an untouchable down-the-line forehand before, a point later, the set was levelled.

“She’s tough,” said Mertens. “She’s really a fighter.”

In the tiebreak, Putintseva turned an 0-3 deficit in her favour by knocking off 5 points in a row but Mertens steered herself back to 6-5 and held a match point, which the Kazakh erased that with an un-returnable serve.

Bolstered by beautiful backhands, Putintseva garnered 2 set points at 7-6 and 8-7 but Mertens was not to be denied and the No 1 seed came out on top in all-court rallies to claim the next 3 points and wrap up the 15-minute breaker, moving into her first semi-final since her run to the Istanbul final in April.

“I just wanted to win so badly,” Mertens said. “I wanted to win in two sets, she’s a great competitor, bringing back a lot of balls, so I really had to go for it.”

Mertens won 74 percent of her first-service points and 34 percent of points returning the Putintseva first serve, which was enough to propel her through the two close sets and nudge her over the finish line.


Daria Kasatkina needed 3 sets to get past Magada Linette and meets Elise Mertens next in San José

© Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Belgian next plays Kasatkina, who had to fight past World No 45 Linette in a 2 hour 18-minute battle which opened play on Stadium Court on Friday, levelling their head-to-head at a victory apiece.

With the pair currently separated by only 14 spots in the rankings, 33rd-ranked Kasatkina let a topsy-turvy second set slip out of her grasp before recovering from a break down in the decider to move into her 4th semi-final of the season.

“Every single set was a different story,” Kasatkina told the press, after her win. “I had many chances in the second set, I was many times up in the games, but at the end I was not able to close the games, and Magda was the one who was able to.

“In the third set I was down 1-3, and I would just keep fighting, and trying to find any opportunities to come back in the games and the match.

“It was very tight moments at the end of the third set, and I’m happy that I was better in these moments.”

After winning the first set, Kasatkina regrouped from an 0-2 deficit in the second, breaking Linette twice in a row to go up a break at 3-2 and edge closer to the win, but the Pole came alive to notch 4 games in a row to steal the set.

Kasatkina needed her all-court wizardry to pull back level at 3-3 in the decider, then clinched a hard-earned victory with a service break in the last game of the match.

Despite letting 11 of her 17 break points fall by the wayside, that decisive break was Kasatkina’s 6th of the day, which was one more service break than Linette could muster up on the day.


Ana Konjuh came through qualifying to beat Shuai Zhang

© Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Later, Konjuh came from a set deficit to blast past Zhang after an hour and 39 minutes of play.

“I came here not really expecting this,” Konjuh told the media. “Like, if I go through qualifying, into the main draw, it would be nice, just to be at high-level tournaments again.

“So this was kind of unexpected, but I’m not complaining at all!”

Konjuh, a former Top 20 player, began the year ranked 538, having missed much of the 2020 season due to elbow surgery, but the Croat has quickly stormed back up the rankings in 2021, currently sitting at 116 and edging closer to a return to the Top 100.

After a trip to the Belgrade final earlier this season, Konjuh finds herself in her second semi-final of the year, following 2 wins in qualifying and 3 main-draw victories this week, surpassing her previous best result at this event, a quarter-final showing in 2017.

Hard-hitting Konjuh was undone by 17 unforced errors in the first set as World No 51 Zhang charged to the one-set lead, but the Croat tightened up her game in the second, with 9 winners to just 3 unforced errors as she levelled the match.

Zhang held a break point in the opening game of the final set, but Konjuh blasted her way out of that jam before powering her way through the decider, winning the last 10 games to sweep into the semis.

“A key was, I think, keeping my serve, just being focused, and making her play one more ball each point,” Konjuh said. “I won a lot of those key points, so I was really happy in the end.”


Danielle Collins took out the No 2 seed Elena Rybakina to reach the San José semi-finals

© Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Her next opponent is Collins, who kept her hopes alive for a title on home soil by upsetting Rybakina.

“It was weird, even though I won both sets, I felt like I was always playing from behind,” Collins said to the media. “To win a match where you always feel like you’re playing from behind, it’s very rewarding, but during the process, it can be a little nerve-wracking.

“I was happy that I kept my composure for the most part, and pulled out the win.”

In the first meeting between the pair, the American World No 36 scored her third Top 20 victory of the season after just under 2 hours, improving her winning streak to 8 straight matches.

The American won her maiden WTA title on the clay of Palermo, while Rybakina, ranked 20, was a semi-finalist at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Collins fought through 2 challenging tiebreak sets, which included saving a pair of set points in the opening frame, but she remained sturdy in moments of adversity, and she saved 6 of the 7 break points she faced in the match.

She only faltered when facing break point was in the very first game, double-faulting to hand Rybakina the chance, which the Kazakh converted with a winning forehand.

Collins, though, demonstrated her mettle by saving 2 set points at 5-3, then broke Rybakina when the 2nd seed served for the set, levelling the opener at 5-5.

A tiebreak ensued, where Collins took immediate control, leaping ahead 4-0 before holding on for the one-set lead.

There were no breaks of serve in the second set in which Rybakina never faced a break point and the combatants inexorably moved to another tiebreak where Collins again hit the changeover with a 4-2 lead, and the American used 2 outstanding serves to clinch the final 2 points of the upset.



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