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May 17, 2022
Tennis

Rome | It’s Swiatek v Sabalenka and Jabeur v Kasatkina in Last 4

Iga Swiatek sunk Bianca Andreescu’s boat to reach the semi-finals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome on Friday where she will take on Aryna Sabalenka, a 3-set winner over Amanda Anisimova, while Ons Jabeur staged a stunning come-back win to get past Maria Sakkari, and will meet Daria Kasatkina, who advanced after Jil Teichmann retired from their night match with a left thigh injury, in the second semi to be played on Saturday.

In my head at 5-2, I said, ‘You cannot finish those two weeks, those amazing almost three weeks, like this’. That’s what got me started. I’m very happy that I could get the win at the end. It’s not easy to play Maria, no? I know she hits really hard. I couldn’t find my rhythm at the beginning. But I’m glad with a little bit experience that I have, I could pull off the win. Ons Jabeur

It was Swiatek’s 26th consecutive match win, and it did not come easily as every time she got ahead, Andreescu levelled in the first set, but once the World No 1 snagged the tiebreak, she fairly romped home to polish off the Canadian, 7-6(2) 6-0, after an hour and 44 minutes.

Amazingly, the Polish 20-year old has won 38 of her past 39 sets dating back to the 4th round of Indian Wells, dropping only 1 to Liudmila Samsonova in the Stuttgart semi-finals.

The 2020 Roland Garros champion has now won 12 of her 13 tour-level quarter-finals, with the only exception being her loss to Sakkari at Roland Garros last year.

Andreescu is on her own come-back trail after the 2019 US Open champion took an extended mental health break having also suffered a series of injuries that kept her off the WTA Tour for long periods of time.

“I wasn’t really expecting anything because I didn’t actually know how she’s playing after the break,” Swiatek admitted later. “I watched many of her matches before she did that break. Right now I didn’t know if her tennis is the same or it changed a little bit.

“But I knew that, physically, I can play longer rallies and also play longer matches. So basically I was ready for that.

“Also, I knew that she’s going to change rhythm. She did that, which was pretty tricky. Just knowing that, I was just ready for it. Tactically I knew it about it, so I’m pretty happy that we prepared well.”

The opening set was a fluctuating affair, with the top seed making the better start by firing a series of backhand winners to take a 2-0 lead.

Andreescu hit back, though, taking 3 games in a row to edge in front, 3-2, but Swiatek responded with her own trio of games, slamming a forehand cross-court to seal a 5-3 lead, only for the Canadian to use some strong returning play to peg the Pole back to 5-5.

Fittingly, the opening act was decided by a tiebreak in which Andreescu allowed herself to get rattled on the 3rd point by an umpire overrule that went Swiatek’s way, and the Pole seized the last momentum shift, staying on the front foot to seal her first set point with a backhand one-two punch.

Having pocketed the tight opener, Swiatek hit her stride and raced through the second, coming out on top of a series of electric baseline exchanges to break Andreescu 3 times and, although the Canadian clung on valiantly, saving 2 match points in style, her backhand found the net on a third.

Swiatek struck 27 winners in the affair, more than twice as many as Andreescu’s 12, and had 14 unforced errors as compared to the Canadian’s 12.

She now owns the joint-fifth longest streak this century, matching the 26 consecutive wins with which Victoria Azarenka began 2012, and only Venus Williams, Serena Williams and Justine Henin have won more matches in a row since 2000.

“Being in that kind of group is like a dream come true for me,” Swiatek said. “I wouldn’t think of that when I was younger.

“I’m pretty happy that I could do that because consistency was the thing I really wanted to work on last year. This year I feel like it clicked.”

Aryna Sabalenka overcame Amanda Anisimova for the first time to set up a meeting with Iga Swiatek in the semi-finals in Rome

© Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

Swiatek’s next opponent is 3rd-seeded Sabalenka in the last 4, after the Belarusian, playing as a neutral, came from a set down to beat Anisimova, 4-6 6-3 6-2, in an hour and 51 minutes to snap a 0-4 loss record to the American

Sabalenka had lost to Anisimova twice on the Grand Slam stage in 2019, at both the Australian Open and Roland Garros, as well as twice more in this year’s clay season, in Charleston and Madrid, and this was the deepest into a draw that the pair had faced off.

Anisimova was bidding to reach her second semi-final at WTA 1000 level or above, and biggest since her breakout run at Roland Garros 2019.

Redirecting Sabalenka’s power with ease, Anisimova seized the momentum aided by the 3rd seed coughing up 5 double-faults in the first set, including twice down break point, but the American also succumbed to double-faults through the rest of the match, committing 2 of her own facing separate break points in the second set.

Sabalenka, meanwhile, found her margins and, having tallied 14 unforced errors in the first set, she reduced that number to only 4 in the second set, and 7 in the third.

A punishing forehand winner gained the first of 2 breaks for Sabalenka in the decider and while another pair of untimely double-faults caused her to lose one of these, it was merely a blip, and she closed out the match with her first ace of the day.

Sabalenka won 61% of her first-serve points to Anisimova’s 55%, and 42% of her second-serve points to the American’s 33%, and although she failed to save all 5 break points she faced, the Belarusian made good on 7 break point opportunities on Anisimova’s serve.

Swiatek leads the overall head-to-head with Sabalenka 2-1, including both of their meetings this year in the Doha quarter-finals and Stuttgart final, in which the World No 1 conceded just 9 games.

Ons Jabeur pulled off an extraordinary come-back win to upset 4th-seeded Maria Sakkari on Friday

© Alex Pantling/Getty Images

The match of the day, however, fell to Jabeur, the Madrid Open champion, who also came from a set down to earn her semi-final place, with the Tunisian, seeded 9th, beating Sakkari, the 4th seed from Greece, 1-6 7-5 6-1, in a dramatic turn-around.

Sakkari was leading 5-2 in the second set before Jabeur reeled off 5 straight games to dramatically upend the contest and claim her 10th straight win, making the Rome semi-finals for the first time in her career.

In fact, Jabeur was 2 points away from seeing her career-best winning streak come to a close at multiple points during the match, but the Tunisian showed phenomenal grit to steer her way back from the brink to a victory in just over 2 hours of play.

“In my head at 5-2, I said, ‘You cannot finish those two weeks, those amazing almost three weeks, like this’,” Jabeur said afterwards. “That’s what got me started. I’m very happy that I could get the win at the end.

“It’s not easy to play Maria, no? I know she hits really hard. I couldn’t find my rhythm at the beginning. But I’m glad with a little bit experience that I have, I could pull off the win.”

Winning nearly 70 percent of her first-service points and converting 6 of her 12 break points ensured that Jabeur continued her run, and although she made 11 more unforced errors than Sakkari, she also doubled the Greek’s winner count by 28 to 14.

To her credit, Sakkari served brilliantly up front, staving off a handful of Jabeur passing winners on her way to claiming the opening stanza with some ease, winning 74 per cent of her service points and fending off the only break point she faced in the opening set.

Sakkari surged to 5-2 in the second, and was edging closer to the win, when Jabeur clawed a break back as the 4th seed served for the match, before going on to break again with a drop-volley winner and levelling the set at 5-5.

A magical forehand pass winner on Jabeur’s first set point at 6-5 gave the Tunisian a 5th straight game and the set, as the match slipped from Sakkari’s grasp, and there was no question the momentum was now in the 9th seed’s favour as Jabeur leapt out to a 5-1 lead in the decider.

She only needed the one match point to complete her tremendous come-back after Sakkari fired a service return wide.

Daria Kasatkina reached her first WTA 1000 semi-final when Jil Teichmann retired injured from their quarter-final night match on Friday

© Julian Finney/Getty Images

Jabeur will face World No 23 Daria Kasatkina in the semi-finals on Saturday after the Russian advanced past Teichmann from Switzerland, who retired due to a left thigh injury with the score standing at 6-4, 3-2.

Kasatkina reached the final 4 in Rome for the first time, having been 0-4 in the Round of 16 here, but she has beaten 4 Top 30 players in a career-best run at Foro Italico this week, including her 3rd Top 10 win of the year over Spain’s No 2 seed Paula Badosa.

A former Top 10 player, Kasatkina is now a win away from her second WTA 1000 final, having reached the Indian Wells final in 2018 where she fell to Naomi Osaka.

“With every set I play, I played better and better,” Kasatkina said. “I’m happy with the way I feel on the court.

“OK, maybe not all the time I am making the right decisions and I’m doing the right shots, but I’m happy generally with how I am on the court. I don’t know about other players, but this is what I’m always trying to search for.”

After 6 breaks of serve in the first 8 games, Kasatkina obtained a critical 7th break for 5-4 by ending an engrossing rally with a winning drop-shot-lob combination and then holding to love to take the one-set lead.

Teichmann, ranked 29, a semi-finalist in Madrid last week, took a medical time-out at 2-1 in the second set but after dropping her serve to give Kasatkina a 3-2 lead, the Swiss left-hander stopped play.

Jabeur holds a 3-2 head-to-head lead over Kasatkina, with the Tunisian having won their only previous clay-court match just last month in Stuttgart in straight sets.

“[Jabeur] won 10 matches in a row, I hope she is a bit tired after this,” Kasatkina said with a smile. “It’s semi-finals, everyone is squeezing maximum of what they have left. For sure it’s going to be a tough battle.”

The semi-finals in both the women’s and men’s singles competitions at the joint WTA 1000 and ATP 1000 will  take place in Rome on Saturday.

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