The semi-final line-up at the Internationaux de Strasbourg was almost completed on Thursday, with favourite Elina Svitolina and Elena Rybakina making their respective seedings berths in the semi-finals, while Nao Hibino upset Jelena Ostapenko and Aryna Sabalenka hangs by a thread as rain stopped play in the final last 8 match of the day.
It was a great fight from Jil and I think both of us were playing at a really good level at some points. I was fighting. I didn't start the match very well, but I was trying to be very focused and fight back. In the end, I'm very happy with how I handled the match today. Elina Svitolina
After the departure of top seed Kiki Bertens on Wednesday, Svitolina as the No 2 seed takes on the mantel of favourite for the title and she marched on with an efficient win over Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann, 6-4 6-3.
From a break down in each set, the World No 5 eased through in an hour and 23 minutes in her first-ever meeting against the Swiss left-hander.
“It was a great fight from Jil and I think both of us were playing at a really good level at some points,” Svitolina said on-court after the match. “I was fighting. I didn’t start the match very well, but I was trying to be very focused and fight back.
“In the end, I’m very happy with how I handled the match today.”
Teichmann, a two-time WTA title-winner on clay courts, started the better of the two players with a break in the first game of the match.
The World No 54 dropped just 3 points in her first 2 services games, but crucially, proved unable to covert a pair of points for a 4-2 lead in the opener en route to losing her serve.
From there, Svitolina gained the upper hand, and although she could not convert a pair of break points in the 8th game, she made no mistake on her 4th of the set, which was also her first set point.
“I was down in the first set and I was not ‘on’ straight away, which really I think pushed me to raise my level and to try to find a way,” Svitolina told reporters after the match.
“Every single match, you have to raise your level to beat your opponent… especially when you are a top player. I think it was important to just raise my level, really fight for every single point and go for my opportunities.”
Svitolina’s momentum continued into the second set, as she opened up a 2-0 lead by winning 8 of the first 10 points.
Teichmann reeled off 3 games of her own to again move a break ahead but the 23-year-old failed to consolidate her lead.
“I think she really was playing really good and striking the ball really well,” Svitolina added. “In the end, I was very happy with how I could come back.
“I was fighting to stay in and to get the win, and I think I got rewarded. That was really good today, because I didn’t let the bad games change my mindset.”
Both players recorded 18 winners in the match, but Svitolina’s overall consistency proved the difference as the Ukrainian struck 14 unforced errors for the match, while the Swiss recorded 20.
For a spot in her second final of the season, Svitolina awaits the winner of the last quarter-final held over until Friday because of rain between No 4 seed Aryna Sabalenka and Czech Katerina Siniakova.
“I haven’t played against Sabalenka for a few years now. She’s a really powerful player and I have to expect that she’s going to come and make lots of winners. She has a big serve and she really tries to put the pressure on you that way,” Svitolina said.
“With Siniakova, it’s a little bit different. There’s more of a rally and she’s a very good mover, so for me it’s just going to be important with both players to bring my game, try to have a clear game plan… and focus on what I can control.”
Hibino dispatches Ostapenko
Japan’s Nao Hibino made it into the final 4 by upsetting Jelena Ostapenko in two tiebreak sets, 7-6(2) 7-6(4).
The Japanese player had never previously taken a set from her Latvian rival yet edged a remarkably unpredictable opening set on a tiebreak before fighting back from two breaks down in the second to claim it in an identical manner.
Although a close match, it was littered with service breaks, which came in sharp contrast to the two players’ second-round outings.
Hibino, who took out No 8 seed Sloane Stephens in the first round, was not broken during her victory over Zarina Diyas on Wednesday, while Ostapenko saved 12 of 17 break points.
In total, there were 12 breaks of serve shared equally between the pair, but it was the WTA World No 84’s greater success on her second serve, plus an unforced error count of 21 compared to her Ostapenko’s 38, that allowed her to prevail.
“It’s surprising for me that I’m doing well this week. Playing on a clay court is not my favourite thing,” she said.
“Jelena hits hard and has good forehand and backhand, so I just kept telling myself to put the ball back as much as possible.”
Hibino will face Elena Rybakina, the No 5 seed from Kazakstan for a place in the finals.
Rybakina sees of Zhang
Elena Rybakina moved into the final four in Strasbourg with a polished performance in defeating Zhang Shuai, a qualifier fromChina, in straight sets.
The No 5 seed was poised and efficient in her 6-3 6-2 win, accomplished in just 59 minutes to move into the semi-finals where she will take on Nao Hibino.
“It wasn’t easy. Of course, it’s never easy,” said Rybakina, who was made to work hard to overcome Alizé Cornet in the previous roun. “I played much better today than in my last match.
“I’m pleased with my serve today. It wasn’t easy. Of course, it’s never easy.
“I played much better today than in my last match. I’m pleased with my serve today. With every win, you become more confident but I’m going to focus on the next match and we’ll see how we go.”
Although Zhang was able to hold in the first game, it was evident that Rybakina was going to be aggressive on return.
The 21-year-old made her breakthrough by pushing Zhang around the baseline before delivering a backhand winner to seal the opening break of the match.
It was the sole break point of the opener, but Rybakina, who leads the WTA Tour in aces this year, defended her serve confidently and quickly sealed the first set with an ace after just 30 minutes of play.
After the players traded holds at the beginning of the second, Rybakina took advantage again, forcing the World No.40 to fire long as she faced break point.
A clean forehand winner sealed another break, maintaining her perfect record on break points, though a lapse in concentration opened the door for the Chinese to close the gap and retain some hope, which was swiftly quashed as Rybakina broke for a 3rd time in succession to move within a game of the match, which she closed out confidently.