Against all the odds, two unseeded players, Veronika Kudermetova and Marta Kostyuk, have made the semi-finals of the WTA 500 tournament in Abu Dhabi, one of which will be a finalist on Wednesday.
I tried to play aggressive, because you know Elina [Svitolina], she has such good defence. If you want to win, you need to attack, you need to go to the net, finish the point, because she runs unbelievably. You need to do something aggressive to win the points. Veronika Kudermetova
Kudermetova upset the second-seeded Elina Svitolina, while Kostyuk fought past Sara Sorribes Tormo, both notching up impressive quarter-final victories over higher-ranked opponents.
18-year-old Kostyuk charged back from a bagelled first set to overcome Spain’s Sorribes Tormo, 0-6 6-1 6-4, to reach the first WTA semi-final of her young career.
The World No 99 from the Ukraine lost the opening set in just 24 hours as the Spaniard stormed ahead, but Kostyuk’s aggressive game got her onto the board with a break for 1-1 in the second and, from there, she began to take control.
“I started to move my legs better, I started to look at the ball better, and I think the whole picture changed,” Kostyuk told the press.
“I stopped missing, and obviously I know that if I’m in the right spot, if I’m at the ball, it’s really tough to get, especially when I’m hitting close to the line.”
A brilliant forehand passing winner at the end of a long rally closed out another long game in Kostyuk’s favour, as she charged ahead to 5-1.
The Spaniard, who did not hit a single winner in the second set, was unable to stop the run as the teenager coolly served out the set with volleying expertise.
After two sets of one-way traffic, the decider was much closer, with the deep, weighty shots of Sorribes Tormo and the net-charging aggression of Kostyuk resulting in six consecutive breaks.
Sorribes Tormo finally quashed that streak, coming out on top in lengthy rallies to hold on for 4-3, but Kostyuk kept striking stellar volleys, holding for 4-4 while saving a break point in the process, and then breaking for 5-4, converting her third break point of another long game with a forehand winner at net.
The teenager then smoothly completed the match in the next game, forcing an error with a backhand down the line for victory.
“I honestly still cannot believe I turned this match around,” said Kostyuk. “It just kind of feels like a dream.”
Kudermetova’s shock defeat Svitolina of Ukraine was a much tighter affair that came down to a final set tiebreak to resolve, 5-7 6-3 7-6(3), in a 2-and-a-half-hour thriller.
The World No 46 extended her head-to-head rivalry lead over Svitolina, having now upset the World No 5 in both of their two meetings.
The 23-year-old Russian fired 50 winners, including 11 aces, to puts her into her first semi-final at a tournament of this level.
“It was a really tough match,” Kudermetova told the press. “I think we both played very good.
“I tried to stay focused until the end. In the first set, I also played not bad, but I didn’t have a lot of chances, Elina played unbelievable. She had good serves today. I tried to fight, I tried to stay focused, and do everything for the win.”
Kudermetova gained the first break point of the day with her fiery forehand, grasping a chance at 3-2, but Svitolina’s swatted it away with her delivery en route to a hold for 3-3.
At 5-all, Kudermetova stumbled with a series of miscues, giving Svitolina triple break point and on the 3rd the Ukrainian had a chance to serve out the set at 6-5.
Kudermetova saved a set point in that game with another fierce forehand, but the Russian shot a return long to cede a second chance to Svitolina, who a superb service winner to claim a close opener.
Svitolina won 60 percent of her second-service points during the set, while Kudermetova claimed only 30 percent of hers during that time-frame.
The Russian, though, rebounded in the second set and, after an early exchange of breaks, Kudermetova started to take control midway through the set, slamming an ace to hold for 3-2, then using her backhand to great effect and breaking again for 4-2.
Another thundering ace on game point allowed the Russian to consolidate for a commanding 5-2 lead.
Serving for the set at 5-3, Kudermetova knocked off an overhead at 30-30 to reach set point, although she squandered her first chance with a double fault.
Another overhead winner gave the Russian a second set point, which she converted after setting up a forehand winner with a divine drop-shot.
Kudermetova grabbed an immediate lead in the decider, with a quick break for 1-0, and Svitolina had to save break points in order to avoid falling into a greater deficit before holding for 4-2.
The Ukrainian, however, struck back, blasting a backhand pass down the line to pull level at 4-4.
The Russian again used her power plays to go up a break, taking a 6-5 lead by crushing a forehand return winner on her 4th break point of a typically lengthy game.
Svitolina, though, used a series of heavy forehands to break back straight away and send the third set into a decisive tiebreak.
In the end, it was Kudermetova who grabbed the early 3-0 lead in the breaker and refused to rescind it.
A sterling crosscourt backhand to force an error gave the Russian a 6-2 lead and 4 match points so, at 6-3, when Kudermetova magically found the sideline with a backhand, the upset was complete.
“I tried to play aggressive, because you know Elina, she has such good defence,” Kudermetova said. “If you want to win, you need to attack, you need to go to the net, finish the point, because she runs unbelievably.
“You need to do something aggressive to win the points.”