Miami | Rybakina to meet Azarenka for a place in the final

World No 4 Elena Rybakina will meet Victoria Azarenka in the semi-finals of the Miami Open presented by Itaú, after the two battled past Maria Sakkari and Yulia Putintseva respectively on Tuesday at the Hard Rock Stadium.

Yulia played great, she’s in such great form, and I really had to dig deep. I felt like my legs were, kind of, giving in a little bit, and I lost a little bit of self-belief because she was playing so well, and moving me around everywhere. But I’m happy that I was able to regroup, reset and really take my chances, come out and play aggressive and face the challenge. Victoria Azarenka

Azarenka, a 3-time Miami Open winner, was first up and had to fight for nearly 3 hours to get past a determined Putintseva and bag her Last 4 slot with a 7-6(4) 1-6 6-3 win over the Moscow-born Kazakh, while Rybakina, the highest seeded player left in the draw, held off a strong challenge from 8th-seed Sakkari of Greece before emerging, 7-5 6-7(4) 6-4, to take her place.

34-year-old Azarenka, who won in Miami in 2009, 2011 and 2016, had to deal with both the spirited challenge from Putintseva, as well as a long delay due to on-court technical problems.

The match was suspended for 45 minutes in the 4th game of the first set due to a power outage, which impacted the umpire’s communications and the Hawk-eye line-calling system.

“At the moment, as you can see in the back, we’ve lost the power,” chair umpire Marija Cicak said. “We’ve lost the lights and the sounds, so we can’t continue.

“We had it, but then it just went down. When we went to announce the score, I couldn’t see. I prefer to have the lights on so I can call it.”

Azarenka, a former World No 1, had to save 3 set points on Putintseva’s serve at 5-4, and then missed out on 2 set points of her own at 6-5 before heading into a tiebreak, in which she fired a series of excellent forehands in the latter stages to finally wrap up the topsy-turvy opener after 90 minutes of action.

Her unseeded opponent, a former Top 30 player who is currently ranked 68, re-bounded in the second, using her guile to ruffle the Belarusian, a mix of drop-shots and differentspins, and levelled the match by winning the last 9 points of the set.


Yulia Putintseva levelled at a set all using her guile but could not stop Victoria Azarenka advancing to the Last 4 on Tuesday

© Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Azarenka, though, slowed Putintseva’s momentum when she saved 2 break points in a key hold to open the decider, and was rewarded by 2 breaks in a row to lead 5-1, now fully tuned into her return game.

While Putintseva saved a match point at 5-2, and held for 5-3, lining up another engrossing ending within their rivalry, Azarenka served out the match at the second time of asking with some ease and relief.

“I think Yulia played a really good match,” Azarenka said. “She’s an incredible fighter. I do feel, like, this year she improved.

“She plays a little bit more aggressive. She doesn’t give you two of the same balls, so you constantly need to be adjusting and adapting.

“The way I came out in that third set was very decisive,” Azarenka added. “I think I executed my game plan really well, and closing out, especially at 5-3, I think it was pretty strong.”

Azarenka had proven too solid down the stretch, firing an un-returnable serve on match point.

“Very happy with today’s win,” the 34-year-old told reporters. “It’s good to be back in the later stages of the tournament, it’s what I work for.

“Yulia played great, she’s in such great form, and I really had to dig deep. I felt like my legs were, kind of, giving in a little bit, and I lost a little bit of self-belief because she was playing so well, and moving me around everywhere.

“But I’m happy that I was able to regroup, reset and really take my chances, come out and play aggressive and face the challenge.

“I’m motivated to compete and go after my dreams. I’ve been playing on tour for 20 years and I still feel, like, I am improving, that’s priceless for me, and I want to keep going,” she added.

Azarenka is now a win away from her 4th Miami final, and her first since she successfully completed the Sunshine Double, when she won Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back in 2016.


Elena Rybakina felt her ankle injury but prevailed over Maria Sakkari in a lengthy and gritty quarter-final contest in Miami

© Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Her semi-final opponent will be 24-year old Rybakina, who has defeated Azarenka in all 3 of their previous meetings.

The Russian born Kazakh is the youngest player left in the tournament, and she needed all her energy to survive a 2 hour 48 minute skirmish with Sakkari.

She led 6-5 in the first set, and the match looked poised for a tiebreak when the Greek’s service game deserted her at the crucial moment, and she was broken with a fine down the line winner from Rybakina, last year’s Miami finalist.

Sakkari opened up a 4-2 lead in an error-strewn second set, but allowed Rybakina to win the next 3 games and had to save 2 match points before running out the winner of the breaker.

A missed backhand in the net cost Rybakina the first match point, and a Sakkari down-the-line forehand was too much for her to handle on the second, and, a half-hour later, it was Indian Wells runner-up Sakkari who forced a final set.

“It was really tough,” Rybakina said. “I had two match points and couldn’t close it out, but I was just thinking to keep on fighting for every point. I knew the third would be really tough.”


Maria Sakkari saved 4 match points against Elena Rybakina but could not get herself over the finish line on Tuesday

© Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Rybakina scored what was to prove the decisive break in the 7th game of the decider, a game in which a pair of punishing forehand winners helped her race out to a 0-40 lead, but it took her 4 tries to pocket it.

She then had 2 more chances to win the match, her 3rd and 4th match points overall, in the 9th game before Sakkari escaped once more, dealing with 5 deuces.

“She had more energy, she was serving much better in the beginning of the third, but I was just thinking to play point-by-point,” Rybakina said. “I was a little bit lucky to finish the match with new balls.”

Sakkari’s determination saw her save 4 match points when 5-3 down as she held, and more than a full hour had passed by between Rybakina’s first 2 match points, and the eventual 5th and final one that won her the match.

“I have no words because I’m so tired. But I’m really happy with the win. It was such a tough battle,” Rybakina said afterwards. “I got a little bit lucky with new balls, so it was easier to serve it out … now, I just need to recover.”

Rybakina, the World No 4 and 2022 Wimbledon champion, will need to bring her best again when she takes on Azarenka on Thursday, and must overcome some issues after having missed Indian Wells ahead of the Miami Open.

The 2 hour, 48-minute contest against Sakkari marked the third 3-set win in 4 matches played so far in the tournament for the 4th seed, who is the highest-ranked player remaining in the tournament after World No 1 Iga Swiatek was upset on Monday night by Ekaterina Alexandrova in the Round of 16.

“Now I don’t think it’s going to be easier, physically, because, with every match I get back in shape, but at the same time it became tough to recover,” Rybakina said. “For sure these tough matches help in the long run, but it’s not easy to recover, even though we have this extra day.”

“After yesterday’s match I felt a little bit the ankle, and everything is, kind of, inflamed. We try to go through all these uncomfortable muscle pains, but the most important is to try and recover and, hopefully, I’m going to feel better.”



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