St Petersburg | Sakkari and Kontaveit lead charge into quarter-finals

Maria Sakkari and Anett Kontaveit, the two top seeds at the St Petersburg Ladies Trophy in Russia, rolled into the quarter-finals on Wednesday, where they will take on Elise Mertens and Belinda Bencic respectively, while the remaining slots in the last 8 will be determined on Thursday.

Sakkari advanced with a 6-2 6-4 win over the last remaining Russian in the draw, Ekaterina Alexandrova, while Kontaveit extended her indoor winning streak to 17 matches with a 6-4 7-5 defeat of Sorana Cirstea from Croatia.

It took Sakkari an hour and 15 minutes to advance to her first quarter-final of the 2022 season, extending her lead in the head-to-head record against Alexandrova to 4-1.

The Greek never faced a break point in the encounter, winning 79% of her first serve points and 73% on her second, while Alexandrova, ranked 43, mustered 64% of her first-serve points and 53% with her second.

Sakkari, the 2021 Roland Garros and US Open semi-finalist earned her first break in the 3rd game to take a 2-1 lead with a volley, and held her next service games to clinch the first set in less than half an hour.

Alexandrova dropped her first service game with a double-fault on break point, and Sakkari held on to her own deliveries to seal the second, and the match, setting up a quarter-final contest with Mertens after the Belgian outlasted Croatia’s Petra Martic, 6-4 3-6 6-2.

Sakkari, the World No 7, has drawn level to 4-4 in her 8 head-to-head matches against Mertens.


Elise Mertens is Maria Sakkari's next opponent after the Belgian outlasted Petra Martic on Wednesday

© Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

Mertens, the 8th seed from Belgium, needed 2 hours 14 minutes to get past Martic, winning 69% of her first-serve points to her opponent’s 61%, and 51% of her second-serve points, compared to 48%.

The Belgian dropped her serve 3 times in the course of the match while converting 5 break points on Martic’s deliveries.

There were two key momentum swings and, while Mertens’ backhand was on song in the initial stages, and she raced out to a 5-1 lead, Martic saved 3 set points in that game and began to show off her full repertoire of slices, drop-shots and volleys.

The Croatian World No 70 controlled the middle section of the match, winning 10 out of 14 games but it wasn’t enough to rescue the first set and, although she cut Mertens’ lead to 5-4, an ill-advised net rush enabled the Belgian to pass her to seal her 5th set point.

Martic raised her first serve percentage from 47% to 69% in the second, capturing the key break for 4-2 with marvellous all-court point construction.

After a perfect drop-shot sealed an immediate break in the decider, Martic seemed to be in the driver’s seat, but a poorly executed drop in the next game gifted Mertens a put-away and, from there, the World No 26 reverted to her initial form.

Tightening up her serve, which had been afflicted by ill-timed double-faults in the second set, Mertens grew in confidence as Martic faded, and the Croatian netted a smash, a forehand, a backhand and finally a volley as she served to stay in the match.

Earlier, in the last first-round match, 3rd seed Elena Rybakina ousted Russian qualifier Varvara Gracheva, 6-2 6-1, in 57 minutes, to reach the round-of-16, but then the Kazakh offered a walk-over to Tereza Martincova into the quarters and she now awaits the outcome of fellow Czech Petra Kvitova, the 6th seed’s match against Irina-Camelia Begu from Romania on Thursday.

Rybakina, the 2020 finalist, started this season brightly, with a runner-up showing in Adelaide, but was forced to withdraw from Sydney and retired in the 2nd round of the Australian Open due to a thigh injury.

She showed no sign of that ailment as she overpowered Gracheva, though, and the Kazakh lost only one point behind her first serve, and did not face a break point over the course of the match.


Olympic champion Belinda Bencic was tested but prevailed against qualifier Kaja Juvan to set a quarter-final meeting with Anett Kontaveit

© Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

In the lower half of the draw, Kontaveit and Bencic booked their quarter-final clash against each other, after winning their respective second-round encounters.

Last year’s Olympic champion Bencic from Switzerland beat Slovenian qualifier Kaja Juvan, 6-1 7-6 (2), in 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach the St Petersburg quarters for the 3rd time in her 4 appearances here, and finished runner-up to Roberta Vinci in the final of the Russian tournament in 2015.

Bencic broke Juvan 4 times and won 81% of her first service points, taking 6 consecutive games from 0-1 down to cruise through to a 6-1 first set.

Juvan earned an early break in the second, but the Swiss broke back with 3 forehand winners to draw level at 4-4 and, while both held en route to the tiebreak, Bencic earned an early mini-break to open up a 3-0 lead and hit a forehand winner to bring up 4 match points at 6-2, sealing the deal when the Slovenian hit her return wide.

Kontaveit, the tournament’s 2nd seed, got past Cirstea in an hour and 31 minutes, needing to recover from a break down in the second set, but ultimately maintaining her mastery over the Romanian against whom she has now won all 6 of their meetings dating back to 2016.

In a high-quality shot-making encounter that was tighter than Kontaveit’s head-to-head dominance suggests, Cirstea played stellar tennis to repeatedly give herself opportunities.

In the first set, she missed 3 break point chances in the 3rd game, and fell down a break for 4-2, but she fired a brace of breathtaking returns to level at 4-4.

A marvellous pass took her to deuce on the Kontaveit serve in the next game, but the World No 9 found her biggest deliveries to extricate herself from danger.

The first half of the second saw Cirstea coming out on top of more of the longer and higher-quality exchanges, and she was rewarded with a break for 4-3 but, again, Kontaveit swiftly erased the deficit thanks to some ferocious returning of her own, then took the best point of the match, turning scrambling defence into emphatic offence to hold for 5-4.

Serving to stay in the match at 5-6, Cirstea’s resistance collapsed and the World No 31 coughed up 2 cheap unforced errors and a double-fault, allowing Kontaveit to take full advantage to seal victory with a powerful off forehand.


Anett Kontaveit got past Sorana Cirstea to make the quarters at the St Petersburg Ladies Trophy

© Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images


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