Top-seeds Aryna Sabalenka and Elise Mertens remain on track to meet in the Upper Austria Ladies Linz final on Sunday after posting wins to reach the semi-finals where they will face Barbora Krejcikova and Ekateriina Alexandrova respectively on Saturday.
The bounce here is a little lower, so it's so important to accelerate enough to get the ball over the net, instead of into it! I'm trying not to hit too flat here, so it's been good to change the rhythm. Most of all, you need to have confidence in your shots to hit the higher ball. Elise Mertens
Sabalenka’s opponent, French qualifier Oceane Dodin trailed 6-3, 3-3 when she slipped on her right foot while attempting to change direction after landing from a serve and left the court in a wheelchair on Friday.
Dodin received medical treatment for her ankle and knee for several minutes before limping back to her chair and deciding not to play on.
“She played really well, she fought for every point and it was a really tough match. I hope she will get better soon,” said Sabalenka, who won the opening set from a break down.
The Belarusian top seed, who is closing in on a first-ever season-ending Top 10 finish should she reach the final, took on Dodin in a rematch of their US Open first round from a few weeks ago, the big hitters trading body blows from the baseline and an early exchange of breaks to start the match.
“From the US Open, I remember how well she serves, and I also remembered some of her favourite spots to serve,” Sabalenka said. “She hits so flat and deep, so I was going to have to be really quick with my feet and stay low.
“I practiced a lot of that with my coach, but even still, it was a tough match because she was playing really well.
“She made a lot of crazy winners, so I’m sorry that she hurt her ankle. I hope she gets better soon.”
Sabelenka quickly found the form that has won her 6 straight matches since Ostrava last month, and scored a crucial break to serve out the opening set.
Things remained close in the second, before a wrong-footed Dodin injured her right ankle, leading to an immediate end to the match.
“This isn’t how I wanted to finish the match, but I’m still happy I was able to win the first set and win every game in the second.”
Sabalenka will next face rising Czech star Barbora Krejcikova, who opened play on Friday and advanced to her first semi-final in three years by winning 8 of the last 9 games against Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich for a straightforward, 6-2 6-1.
“I’ve played against her in doubles before, and those have always been tough matches,” said Sabalenka, who could join Simona Halep as the only player with 3 WTA titles in the shortened 2020 season. “She serves and plays very well, and she’s moving especially well; she seems to be in that shape you need to be in for singles.
“I’ll watch some of her matches today and figure out some tips with my coach.”
Krejcikova last made it to a tour-level semi-final in 2017, when she finished runner-up to Kiki Bertens at the Nürnberger Versicherungscup as a qualifier.
The Czech has backed up her 4th round run at the French Open in some style in Linz, dismissing Sasnovich in 67 minutes.
“I’m really happy,” she said after the match. “This means a lot to me that I’m even able to be here and able to play.
“It’s obviously very difficult with everything happening in the world right now. I’m just really fortunate to be able to compete, have fun, and enjoy tennis.”
In control throughout the clash, Krejcikova raced ahead 4-1 in the opening set, and although she gave up one break-back to the Belarusian, she lost just 6 points behind her first serve and converted 5 of 9 break point opportunities.
“My ranking is improving, which is excellent for me,” she said. “I’ve always been dreaming of being in the Top 100. I’m moving even higher and higher up now, which is very prestigious for me.
“It was a very tough season, but when I was at home, I tried to put a lot of work into my tennis: physically and mentally. I’m very glad that all that work is paying off right now.
“I’m in a position where I’ve never been. In the past, I played a lot of doubles and wasn’t able to get nearly as far in singles where balance was even a question.
“I’m sure I’ll find the answer next year, because I really want to play singles and doubles. We’ll see how I can manage.”
Second-seeded Elise Mertens will take on Ekaterina Alexandrova in the other semi-final after earning her record-extending 33rd match win of the season by beating Veronika Kudermetova, 6-4 6-1.
Mertens was fresh off a tough 3-set win over former World No 2 Vera Zvonareva in the second round, but made much quicker work of Kudermetova to advance after 92 minutes on the grey indoor hard court.
“I slept in a little bit longer to get an extra hour, but I managed the turnaround pretty well after a slower start,” she said after the match. “From there, I played much better.”
The two-time US Open quarter-finalist didn’t have things all her own way as the young Russian broke to open the match and was two points from a 4-1 lead before Mertens got a foothold in the match, winning 5 of the next 6 games to sweep the opening set.
“I tried to keep putting that one more ball in because she’s a hard hitter,” she said. “She has great groundstrokes but can also make mistakes so, as aggressively as I tried to play, I also wanted to allow her to make that mistake.”
Carrying the momentum into the second set, Mertens raced ahead 5-1 and edged through a tense final game to convert her 3rd match point opportunity.
“The bounce here is a little lower, so it’s so important to accelerate enough to get the ball over the net, instead of into it!” the Belgian added. “I’m trying not to hit too flat here, so it’s been good to change the rhythm.
“Most of all, you need to have confidence in your shots to hit the higher ball.”
Her semi-final opponent, No 4 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, had a surprisingly easy win over French Open semi-finalist Nadia Podoroska from Argentina, 6-2 6-1, in a minute under an hour of play.
“I’m ready to go,” Alexandrova said. “I’m doing everything I need to do after a good match: getting the good night’s sleep, warming up and seeing the physio.
“It’s the last tournament of the year so I’ll give everything I have.”
The contest was tougher than the score suggests, however, as the Russian proved more experienced on the indoor surface, closing out Podoroska without dropping serve in her 58-minute win, and saving the only 2 break points faced, including one as she served for the match.
“After the first set, I felt more confident. I’m hoping I’ll be able to keep this level for the next match, so we’ll see,” Alexandrova said. “The start of the year was pretty good for me, and it feels great to be back.
“We’re finally back to playing indoors, too, because before that it felt like I was on clay every week, which isn’t my best surface.
“I was kind of frustrated during the pause, not knowing how long we would be off the tour.
“When we came back, I’d somewhat lost my feeling, my rhythm that I had at the start of the season. It took some time to find it again, but I think I’ve found it!”