Top seed Aryna Sabalenka avoided an upset at the hands of Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck on Friday, and advanced to the Libema Open semi-finals at ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, where she will play America’s Shelby Rogers, who outlasted another Belgian, Kirsten Flipkens, both surviving tight 3-setters.
The second semi-final of the WTA 250 grass court event is an all-Russian affair between Veronica Kudermetova, the 6th seed, who upset 2nd-seeded Belinda Bencic, and compatriot, Ekaterina Alexandrova, who dispatched another American, Caty McNally, both in straight sets.
It took Sabalenka 2 hours and 5 minutes to see off Van Uytvanck’s challenge on her 6th match point, 6-3 3-6 7-6(5), while Rogers rallied to a 3-6 6-1 6-4 win over Flipkens.
Van Uytvanck put up a valiant fight in a contest that saw both players winning a similar percentage of points off their first serves, with Sabalenka’s 72.9% of her first-serve points to Van Uytvanck’s 72.6%, but it was the points each won off their second deliveries that, eventually, helped turn the match around in Sabalenka’s favour.
The World No 6 won around 54% of her second-serve points to the Belgian’s 35%, and Sabalenka saved 2 of the 4 break points she faced while converting 3 of the 5 break points on Van Uytvanck’s serve.
On the very last point of the match, Van Uytvanck tried to challenge Sabalenka’s winner before ultimately conceding defeat in a dramatically funny finale.
The Belgian raised her hand when Sabalenka’s final forehand found the corner, but no call was made, in what proved to be a futile attempt to issue a challenge.
Umpire Meruyert Kaukeyeva missed the gesture and, in the absence of an audible challenge from the Belgian, called game, set and match for Sabalenka.
Van Uytvanck argued she had the right to challenge before Sabalenka interjected, waiting for her handshake at net, and confirming the call with her team.
Disarmed by the interruption, Van Uytvanck blurted: “I know it was in!” Prompting three to break into giggles, and Sabalenka pulled her into a hug to conclude matters.
The week in ‘s-Hertogenbosch has been beset by stormy weather, and Sabalenka ended up needing several days just to finish her second round against Dutch wild-card Arianne Hartono.
Standing between the former World No 2 and a second final of the season is Rogers, who took just 2 hours and 13 minutes to rally from a set down to defeat Flipkens, a former Wimbledon semi-finalist, 3-6 6-1 6-4.
At the end, Rogers had won 68% of her first-serve points to Flipkens’ 61%, but of the two, it was, the Belgian who was able to get better traction off her second-serve points, 61% to the American’s 51%.
In terms of break point conversions, Rogers faced 6 break points and saved 4 of these while converting 4 of the 10 break points she had on the Flipkens’ serve.
Meanwhile, in the bottom half of the draw, 7th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova wrapped up her 6-0 6-1 win against Cathy McNally in just 43 minutes, winning 83% of her first-serve points to the American’s 35%, and 72% of her second-serve points to the latter’s 27%.
She did not face a single break point on her serve and converted 5 of the 6 break point chances she had on McNally’s serve.
Alexandrova will play 6th-seeded Kudermetova for a chance to reach the Libema Open final, who beat Bencic, the No 2 seed, 6-4 6-2 in an hour and 27 minutes.
Kudermetova, who reached the quarter-finals at last week’s French Open in Paris, had lost her last 3 matches against the Swiss and her latest win levels their career head-to-head record at 4-4.