Aryna Sabalenka produced a convincing display to ease into the US Open semi-final with a straight sets victory over Karolina Pliskova.
The sixth seed has struggled for consistency in New York, but she was back to her brilliant best to sweep aside Pliskova, who simply had no answer to the Belarusian’s venomous serve and blistering backhand, particularly in the first set.
After a couple of her earlier matches went the distance, it was clear that Sabalenka was in no mood to waste time in the quarter-final on Arthur Ashe Stadium, emerging the winner 6-1 7-6(5).
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In her pre-match preparation, Pliskova would not have imagined starting the quarter-final in the way she did; making two big forehand errors and throwing in a double fault on her way to being broken in the opening game.
Between the duo, 11 unforced errors were made in the opening two games, and despite more than playing her part in adding to the nervous energy of the early stages, Sabalenka just about managed to hold serve, before capitalising on yet more mistakes from Pliskova to race into a 3-0 lead.
The Belarusian hit a trio of winners on her way to making it 4-0 - finishing things off with a tidy ace to assert her authority further.
Pliskova finally found her service game to pull a game back, but it was too late, and the first set was over in just 28 minutes. 6-1. Advantage Sabalenka.
The second set started in the way that had been expected half an hour earlier, with both players serving well and keeping unforced errors to a minimum.
With Sabalenka 4-3 up, Pliskova had to fight from 0-30 down, and then save a breakpoint to let her opponent know she was not going to roll over and give up.
Sabalenka’s serve was holding firm, but Pliskova was unfazed in response. Despite twice having to serve to stay in the US Open, she did so with confidence to force a tie break in the second.
Shots of serious power gave Sabalenka the early control, but the No.6 seed followed her strong start with a miscued backhand and an untimely double fault.
However, three points on the spin put the Belarusian back in control, and although Pliskova’s resilience and fight back was admirable after such a torrid first set, her resistance was eventually ended.
Sabalenka, at the second match point of asking, confirmed her place in the semi-final with a 6-1 7-6 victory.
Speaking on court after the game, Sabalenka admits she faced a mental battle, saying, "The last two matches were kind of - I don’t want to say that I didn’t respect her and I didn’t expect a great level from her - I was more thinking, ‘Come on, I’m at the top, I have to beat her’."
"Today I expected a great level, I expected long rallies and I expected a tough match. I just tried to stay in the match as long as I could and just tried to make her work for it. She played really well and somehow I was able to handle the level and win this match. And of course, thank you so much for your support guys, it was a really amazing atmosphere."
After serving seven aces on her way to victory, Sabalenka said, "I would say that I completely changed my motion, and thank you so much again for helping me to fix my serve. Before my toss was too far in front, and I was trying to hit the ball so hard without any spin on it. Right now I’m not really going for aces. I’m just trying to put my serve on the big targets and start to play the point."
She will face Iga Swiatek in the last four, and she knows she faces a tough task to make the showpiece match.
"Well it will be a tough opponent of course. It’s a semi-final - it’s going to be tough and I’m ready for it. I’m ready for another fight. I think I just have to stay focused on myself and do whatever I can, and just do my best and be ready for a great battle."
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