Alison Riske pulled off a major upset in dispatching the World No 3 Elina Svitolina in straight sets, 6-1 6-3, to reach the semi-finals of the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open in China on Thursday.
I feel great. It's great to finish the day with two wins. It was great level on singles and great level on doubles. I'm just enjoying my time on the court, Aryna Sabalenka
The unseeded American had all the answers, dropping just 4 games after a punishing 14-minute opening game set the tone for the match, with Svitolina saving 5 break points as she battled under pressure from Riske.
After 9 deuce points and 4 chances to close out the game coming and going for Svitolina, it was finally Riske who broke to take the marathon game, 1-0.
Riske kept the intensity high in the following games, and had consolidated her lead to 4-0 with a second break before Svitolina could recover.
Growing in confidence, Riske, who didn’t face a single break point in the opening set, broke once more to close out the set, 6-1.
Svitolina showed her fight in the second, as she finally grabbed her first break of the Riske serve, converting her 3rd chance to take her first lead of the match at 2-1.
It was short-lived, as Riske bounced back from the momentary letdown, breaking straight back at 2-2 and reeling off the next 3 games in a row, 5-2.
Riske served at 81% of first serves in during the one-sided clash against Svitolina, claiming her first career win over the Ukrainian and improving the head-to-head record to 3-1 in the process.
The American kept Svitolina contained with smart forays to the net, and her aggression earned her 5 breaks from 13 opportunities.
The victory is another highlight of one of Riske’s best seasons to date, which includes lifting her second career WTA trophy at ‘s-Hertogenbosch and reaching her first semi-final at Wimbledon.
She has also made a name of herself for recording dramatic, never-say-die comeback wins over top players, including the Top 10’s Ashleigh Barty and Kiki Bertens, along with Angelique Kerber, Garbiñe Muguruza and more.
Into the semi-finals of Wuhan for the first time, Riske will take on former two-time champion Petra Kvitova as she seeks a spot in the final.
Kvitova took down another Ukrainian opponent, Dayana Yastremska, in straight sets earlier in the day to advance.
The No 5 seed outplayed the rising Yastremska, 6-2 6-4.
Kvitova came into the tournament looking to reclaim the red-hot form from the first half of the season that saw her lift trophies in Sydney and Stuttgart and reach finals at the Australian Open and Dubai.
A left forearm injury derailed her consistency, keeping her out of Roland Garros and forcing her to play a reduced schedule, contesting just 3 tournaments in the past 4 months.
“I had a tear in my forearm and it’s pretty healed, but something around it is going badly. Maybe the scar with the muscle is doing some bad things. Sometimes it’s getting swollen and there’s pain,” Kvitova admitted.
Back at one of her happiest hunting grounds, Kvitova was dialled in from the start against the Ukrainian youngster, firing 14 winners and breaking her opponent 4 times en route to a comfortable victory in an hour and 13 minutes.
Both left-handers, Kvitova opened with an early break to take a 1-0 lead, and dictated the pace with heavy groundstrokes, firing everything back at Yastremska with interest.
She extended her lead to 4-1, and served out the opening set in full control.
Yastremska showed her fight in the second, as she pegged back Kvitova, turning around another early break deficit and striking back to make it 1-1, but she couldn’t hold back her opponent for long, and a game later the Czech was back in front with a second break, 2-1.
The pair stayed on serve for the remaining games as Kvitova marched her way to victory, putting her through to her first semi-final since her title run in Stuttgart, and her 5th overall of 2019.
The other semi-final sees World No 1 Ashleigh Barty, winner over Petra Martic, 7-6(6) 3-6 6-3, take on defending champion Aryna Sabalenka, who says “My game is getting better and better with every day.”
Powering her way into the semis with her 10th straight victory, beating Kazakh wildcard Elena Rybakina, 6-3 1-6 6-1, the No 9 seed dropped her first set of the tournament since beating Svitolina in last year’s second round.
Sabalenka later teamed with Elise Mertens to continue their winning streak in doubles, as the US Open champions and No 2 seeds beat Caroline Garcia & Bethanie Mattek-Sands to reach the semi-finals, 7-5 6-3.
“I feel great. It’s great to finish the day with two wins. It was great level on singles and great level on doubles. I’m just enjoying my time on the court,” Sabalenka said. “It was great to play.”
Barty’s meeting with Sabalenka is a repeat of last year’s semi-final, which the Belarusian won 7-6(2) 6-4.
Sabalenka has a 2-1 winning record against the World No 1 on Tour, although she lost at the 2018 Australian Open to the French Open champion.
Barty also posts a victory in the pair’s last meeting, a 6-2 6-2 success in the Fed Cup earlier this year.
The Australian is into the semi-finals in Wuhan for the third time in succession, her best result being a run to the 2017 final, when she was beaten by Caroline Garcia.
The winner of the first semi-final will join Kvitova as the only players to have reached two Wuhan Open finals.
The Czech, who is the only player to have lifted the trophy twice, is going for a hat-trick of appearances in the showpiece and has won all 4 of her trips to the semis in tournaments during 2019.