Sabalenka, Badosa Set Up Stuttgart Semifinal Showdown

Aryna Sabalenka (photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix)

STUTTGART/WASHINGTON, April 22, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Aryna Sabalenka beat Anett Kontaveit a year ago in the quarterfinal round of the WTA 500 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart. Since then, the World No. 6 Kontaveit has been lights out indoors.

Kontaveit, seeded fifth in this year’s Stuttgart event, came into her Friday rematch with the World No. 4 from Belarus having won 22 consecutive indoor matches. Along the way, the Estonian won titles in Ostrava, Moscow, Cluj-Napoca and St. Petersburg.

Plus, Kontaveit has reached the quarterfinals or better in each of her five appearances at Porsche Arena, although she came within two points of defeat Thursday evening before eeking out a victory over unseeded Ekaterina Alexandrova.

Earlier in the week, Kontaveit said of her indoor winning streak: “I’m aware of it because of social media. But these tournaments are so strong and every match is a huge challenge. When I stop on the court I don’t think ‘Oh, we’re indoors now so I’m going to beat everyone (laughs).'”

With Kontaveit’s huge winning streak and a berth in Saturday’s semifinals on the line, the No. 3 seed Sabalenka was bidding to reach her first semifinal since last September at the US Open and brought a 4-0 head-to-head advantage into the quarterfinal match. Streak aside, the odds favored Sabalenka – and she pulled off an impressive 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 victory in an hour and 45 minutes. It was her second straight three-set win in Stuttgart and came a day after she went the distance to beat Bianca Andreescu.

Sabalenka fired 10 aces, hit six double faults and struck 39 winners to overcome 47 unforced errors. She broke Kontaveit’s serve five times in 10 tries and outpointed her 85-72. Kontaveit countered with five aces and 19 winners but made 32 unforced errors. She converted three of seven break points.

“It was a perfect test for me to have to play really well [to win],” Sabalenka said in her on-court interview following her victory. “It was a really tough match and I’m super happy with the results.”

After three straight breaks of serve to open the quarterfinal match, Sabalenka rode the momentum of her second break of Kontaveit in the third game on her fourth break-point attempt that halted a lengthy 14-point game. She settled down and lost just five more points on her serve and won the 42-minute opening set 6-4.

Next, Kontaveit rallied to win the 37-minute second set 6-3 after breaking Sabalenka twice and overcoming a break of her own serve. She put away the middle set with her fourth ace, hit out wide, that Sabalenka was unable to lay a racquet on.

In the decider, Sabalenka capped a 10-point game with a break of Kontaveit to go ahead 3-1 and consolidated it for a 4-1 advantage. Then, she gained break points in her opponent’s next service game and increased to a double-break lead at 5-1 after a frustrated Kontaveit netted a fourth-shot backhand return. Serving for the match, Sabalenka saved her best for last as she solidly closed out it out at love to win the 27-minute set 6-1 and the match.

“Every match I play against Anett is always a tough battle,” Sabalenka said. “I enjoyed every second on court – I enjoyed my game – and I think that’s why I found a way through.”

Kontaveit’s indoor streak ended as Sabalenka continued her mastery of the Estonian – her fifth consecutive victory over the Tallinn native. Now, Sabalenka moves on to a Saturday semifinal clash with No. 2 seed Paula Badosa of Spain, whom she teamed with in doubles earlier this week in Stuttgart.

“Guys, thank you so much for the atmosphere, you’ve been unbelievable,” Sabalenka added in showing her appreciation to the Porsche Arena crowd that returned after a one-year absence due to the coronavirus. “I’ve enjoyed every second on court.”

Badosa, ever the fighter, beats Jabeur

Spain’s Paula Badosa is set to rise to a career-high World No. 2 on Monday following her three-set over World No. 10 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia in Friday’s opening match on Center Court.

As is her custom, the 24-year-old U.S.-born Spaniard fought to the very last point in a very mental and physical battle, which she won, 7-6 (9),1-6, 6-3, in two hours and 11 minutes.

In a quarterfinal match between two good friends, there were few if any secrets between the second seed Badosa and No. 7 seed Jabeur when they met for the first time this season and fourth overall. Badosa brought her aggressive groundstroke game and Jabeur deftly pulled out her flat backhands and drop shots as weapons of surprise.

However, when all was said and done, it was Badosa who prevailed over Jabeur to advance to Saturday’s semifinal round against No. 3 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

“The first set I think was high level from both sides,” a happy but relieved Badosa said during her on-court interview. “Either one of us could win it. I’m very pleased I could win it.

“As I always say, I’m a fighter. I’m happy I fought until the last moment.”

Badosa came into Friday’s quarterfinal leading their head-to-head 3-1, but she and Jabeur split the two meetings last year, with Jabeur winning a three-set second-round match in Miami and Badosa prevailing in straight sets in the Indian Wells semifinals.

Before the match, Badosa told the WTA Insider: “I’ll have to be ready for her very flat game. She’ll be very aggressive. She won’t give me the time to play, to think. I’ll have to do the same to her. I think in these kinds of matches, the one who plays better that day wins because the level is very tight right now.”

Indeed, there was a sense of tightness between each of the competitors, which resulted in a combined eight breaks of serve during their 67-minute opening set. Neither player could gain much traction. Soon, Jabeur was broken in consecutive service games while serving for the set at 5-4 and 6-5 and was stymied after gaining set points during the ensuing tiebreaker at 6-5 and 8-7. Badosa finally pulled out the first-set tie-break 11-9. She won it on her third set point after Jabeur hit the final return of a 12-shot rally long off her forehand. It improved Badosa’s tie-break record this season to 8-1.

The quarterfinal match was far from being over, though. Jabeur rebounded nicely and won the second set easily 6-1 in an economical 26 minutes, breaking Badosa’s serve twice and hitting 12 winners to force a decider.

Jabeur admitted in press Thursday: “I know that Paula practices one way and plays another way. She’s much tougher in matches. it’s going to be a very tough match. I think I’ll rally a lot and run a lot. She doesn’t give free points.”

In the final set, Badosa broke Jabeur at love in the sixth game to go ahead 4-2 but was immediately broken in the next game by the Tunisian, who wasn’t going to go down without a fight. However, Badosa broke Jabeur, again, in a 12-point game – for a sixth time – to go ahead for good at 5-3 with the match now riding on her racquet.

Soon, serving at 40-30, Badosa put away the quarterfinal victory on her first match-point opportunity after Jabeur netted a backhand on the service return. Badosa raised her arms in celebration – and, perhaps, relief – on one side of the net, while Jabeur showed disappointment on her face as she shook hands with Badosa and later as she walked off the court. No doubt, she’ll look back on a match that was filled with missed opportunities. As for Badosa, her mental resilience pulled her through another tight victory, her 20th of the season.

“It’s very tough against Ons, she’s an amazing player,” Badosa said. “She plays so well and it’s so tough to beat her. I’m really happy about this win today. It means more to me than just a match. I’m in my best ranking. It’s really my goal [to reach No. 2]. I’m really happy about that.”

Swiatek extends winning streak to 21

World No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek gave a dominant performance against No. 8 seed Emma Raducanu to extend her winning streak to 21 matches. Focused from first ball to last ball, the 20-year-old Polish star beat the reigning US Open champion from Great Britain, 6-4, 6-4, in an hour and 45 minutes.

Swiatek overcame 36 unforced errors by hitting 28 winners and broke Raducanu’s serve three times in four tries. She won 70 percent (26 of 37) of her first-serve points and was broken just once. Swiatek outpointed Raducanu 67-54.

“I’m so happy that the match today took a bit longer,” Swiatek said in her on-court interview. In her second-round win over 342nd-ranked qualifier Eva Lys of Germany, Swiatek dropped just two games during the 62-minute match.

“Every minute I’m able to play on the surface helps me to get used to the clay. I’ve got an excellent attacking game at the moment.”

Swiatek began her winning streak by garnering three straight WTA 1000 titles, in Doha (5-0), Indian Wells (6-0) and Miami (6-0). Since then, she won a pair of Billie Jean King Cup matches last weekend against Romania and is 2-0 in Stuttgart. She’s also won 28 consecutive sets, that dates back to her 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 fourth-round triumph over Angelique Kerber in Indian Wells. It’s the longest set winning streak since Serena Williams also won 28 straight sets between the 2012 US Open final and the 2013 Australian Open quarterfinals.

Meanwhile, the quarterfinal match was Raducanu’s first against a Top-10 opponent. To her credit, the 19-year-old Briton won more games – eight – than anyone in Swiatek’s last 10 matches.

Next, Swiatek will oppose No. 31 Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, who advanced with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over 231st-ranked German wild card Laura Siegemund.

Samsonova defeats former Stuttgart champion Siegemund

Russia’s Liudmila Samsonova began Friday evening by taking out the last remaining German Laura Siegemund, 7-5, 6-3, in one hour and 48 minutes to reach her first WTA semifinal of the season.

The 23-year-old from Olenegorsk has won three consecutive straight-set matches this week in Stuttgart with victories over Chloe Paquet of France, No. 6 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic and Siegemund.

The unseeded Samsonova won 77 percent (30 of 39) points behind four aces and saved four of five break points she faced. She broke the 231st-ranked Siegemund four times in 12 opportunities and outpointed the 2017 Stuttgart champion 72-59.

“I knew that it was going to be a very tough match,” the World No. 31 Samsonova said afterward. “The way she plays, she changes her game a lot. So, I had to be very, very focused today.”

Samsonova won her first WTA title last summer at the WTA 500 event in Berlin as a qualifier. Now, she will be tasked with trying to end World No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek‘s 22-match winning streak.

Meanwhile, Siegemund, the last of six Germans remaining in the draw who began the week, found a lot of positives to take away from her last eight finish. “Normally, frustration is the overriding feeling after such a defeat. It’s not the case today. There were many good points to my game that I can build upon,” she said.

“It was a first step on the long road back after injury. I first want to get back into the Top 100. It’s my big goal. But I’d like to take one step after the other.”

Around the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

Friday’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix results

Saturday’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix order of play

By the numbers

With her 22nd straight indoor victory on Thursday, Anette Kontaveit is tied for the third-longest indoor winning streak in the WTA since 1989, with Justine Henin and Lindsay Davenport. The longest indoor winning streak is held by Steffi Graf with 43 followed by Monica Seles with 32.

“Quotable …”

“You can’t really compare the journeys because we’ve had different pathways. Since she won the Slam, she’s done extremely well and remained consistent. I’m not sure when that will happen for me but I’m sure I’ll get there.”

– Reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu of Great Britain, as told to the WTA Insider in comparing herself to World No. 1 and 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek. Both have won major titles as teenagers.