Aryna Sabalenka came through a pair of very tight sets to see off Karolina Muchova in the second semi-final of the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai in China on Saturday.
After the experience I had this year, I'm not focusing on the ranking anymore, I'm focusing on my game and just to put everything on the court every time I'm playing. So that's where my focus is right now Aryna Sabalenka
The pair squared off for the first time and it was the undefeated Rose Group winner Sabalenka who eventually edged out the No 11 seed from teh Czech Republic, 7-5 7-6(4) after an hour and 53 minutes.
Sabalenka seems to relish playing in China, scoring a 31-7 career record in tour-level matches and winning 3 of her 4 WTA singles titles here, plus she has also made the quarter-finals or better in 8 of her 10 tour-level appearances on Chinese soil.
“I think China loves me and I love it too, so the results here are really good and unbelievable, so I’ll just try to keep being here,” Sabalenka said of her success in China.
“After the experience I had this year, I’m not focusing on the ranking anymore, I’m focusing on my game and just to put everything on the court every time I’m playing.
“So that’s where my focus is right now.”
Muchova claimed two gruelling 3-set wins over Americans Alison Riske and Sofia Kenin to go undefeated in the Camellia Group and was contesting at a career-high ranking of World No 26, having been ranked No 141 this time last year.
Sabalenka advanced to the 9th final of her career overall and 4th this season, and came from a break down in both sets.
Despite losing serve in the opening game of each set, she battled back to seal victory in her first-ever meeting with the Czech.
The Belarusian also saved a set point in the second set, on serve, as the Czech twice stepped to the line to force a final set.
Muchova was broken to love in the 10th game, to 15 in the 12th, and also proved unable to extend an early mini-break advantage in the deciding tiebreak.
“I was just trying to stay in the game, try to just serve and take that game and then try to break her,” Sabalenka assessed.
“I did it well, but then again, my serve didn’t go well, and then again, break.
“I was just like trying to stay in the game as long as I can and just try to stay focused, and you never know what’s going to happen, just try to get it done.
“I just want to say that she’s playing really smart, maybe today was a little bit unforced errors from her, but she’s playing really smart and she is using like slice from the backhand, top spin forehand, flat backhand.
“It’s a really great game and it’s really uncomfortable to play against these kind of girls, but nothing really surprised me because I knew it’s going to happen.
“I just watched her matches and I saw what she’s going to do, so it’s not like surprise. But I like her style.”
The World No 14 improved to 15-2 on Chinese soil this season, as she will look to win her 3rd title in the country this year against Bertens.
It will be a rematch of the pair’s match at the Dongfeng Open Wuhan Open, won by Sabalenka in the third round in straight sets, en route to her successful title defence at the Premier 5 event.
“It’s going to be really interesting to play against her,” the Belarusian added.
“Every time we play against each other it’s like a big battle, so I’m just looking forward to it and really can’t wait to go on the court and play.
“It’s going to be a touch match, she’s a great player and it’s always tough to play against her, so I just expect a great level of tennis and just, a big fight, maybe, big battle or something.”