San Diego | Boulter bests Vekic for first WTA 500 semi-final showing

British No 1 Katie Boulter advanced to the biggest semi-final of career with an emphatic upset win over Donna Vekic on Friday at the Cymbiotika San Diego Open, where she will meet Emma Navarro for a place in Sunday’s WTA 500 championship match.

I found it tough to, kind of, get into the match. I just tried to stay as strong as I could and, somehow, found a way over the line. I'm an aggressive player, so I do try to go for it, no matter what the conditions are. Katie Boulter

Also through to the Last 4 is top-seeded Jessica Pegula, who takes on Marta Kostyuk in the semi-final on Saturday.

Boulter maintained the form that saw her lay down two markers earlier in the week, defeating Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko before upsetting Beatrice Haddad Maia, the 2nd seed from Brazil, in the 2nd-round, and now following up with a convincing 6-4 6-3 win over Vekic, the 7th seed from Croatia, in tricky, windy conditions in California.

“It was an absolute battle in tricky conditions, it was not easy to get any rhythm as we are both big hitters,” Boulter said in her on-court interview. “I got over the line in the first set, and played some good stuff in the second.”

Vekic was the runner-up in San Diego in 2022 and is ranked 28 in the world, so Boulter had to battle hard  from the outset, having lost her serve in the 4th game when the Croatian established an early 3-1 lead.

The Brit, though, broke back immediately, and also recovered from a 0-40 deficit in her next service game as she shifted the momentum her way.

The 27-year-old broke for a 5-4 lead before seeing out a hold to 30 to take the opening set, and then raced into a 4-0 lead in the second, despite still being prone to the odd double-fault.

Boulter failed to serve out the match at the first time of asking as Vekic earned a break back for 5-3, but the Croatian ceded a match point on serve in the 9th game, when the British No 1 emerged triumphant from a gripping 24-shot rally with a well-executed forehand winner to wrap up the win in an hour and 36 minutes.

“I found it tough to, kind of, get into the match,” Boulter added. “I just tried to stay as strong as I could and, somehow, found a way over the line.

“I’m an aggressive player, so I do try to go for it, no matter what the conditions are.”

After trailing 3-1 in that first set, Boulter had won 9 of the next 10 games in another confident display, and now, as a result, she will climb to a career-high ranking on the brink of the Top 40.

3rd seed Emma Navarro came from behind to defeat qualifier Daria Saville and will play Katie Boulter for a place in Sunday's final

© Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Boulter next will play American Emma Navarro for a place in the final after the 3rd seed defeated Australia’s Daria Saville, 6-4 6-2, in her quarter-final.

Navarro, the 2021 NCAA singles champion at Virginia, advanced to the Last 4 for the second year in a row by beating the last remaining qualifier, 113th-ranked Saville, having trailed 1-4 in the opening set.

The 3rd seed then reeled off 5 straight games to take control of the match.

“Someone in the crowd told me to wake up,” said the 22-year-old, who capitalised on 8 of her 14 break-point opportunities. “I guess that was maybe the push I needed!

“It’s tough playing someone I’ve never played before. I was just, kind of, getting used to her game, and putting together a strategy of how I wanted to play. It took me a little bit to find that, but I got there in the end. I’m happy with the win and excited to be moving forward.”

It will be Navarro’s 5th tour-level semi-final in less than a year, and she won her first WTA title earlier this year at Hobart, Australia.

Top-seeded Pegula outlasted Russia’s Anna Blinkova, 6-1 2-6 6-2, to reach her semi-final spot, competing for the first time in a month after missing action since Austarlia due to a neck injury.

“Anna’s always a really tough competitor,” said Pegula, the World No 5. “She makes you really have to earn it.

“I feel, like, I started out playing really well, then she changed up her game plan and started hitting a lot of high balls. I wasn’t stepping in and was getting frustrated. I reeled off some really bad errors for a couple of games there, but I managed to find my range.”

Pegula finished with 24 winners against 17 unforced errors, the majority of which came in the second set.

Her next opponent will be 6th-seeded Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine, who took out the No 4 seed, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova from Russia, 3-6 6-4 6-3, in the late Friday night match.

Top seed Jessica Pegula dropped the middle set but reached the Last 4 after beating Anna Blinkova, where she will meet Marta Kostyuk

© Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images



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