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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Wednesday, May 15, 2024


World No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka did not face a break point sweeping Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-4 to reach her second Rome semifinal.

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty

The Eternal City can be Extermination Central when Aryna Sabalenka is calling the shots.

Fighting off three match points in the prior round, Sabalenka was in no mood for extended drama today.

More: Tabilo Shocks Djokovic in Rome

A sharp Sabalenka shredded Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-4 to charge into her second Rome semifinal in the last three years.

World No. 2 Sabalenka will face either red-hot Miami Open champion Danielle Collins or Belarusian compatriot and No. 24 seed Victoria Azarenka for a spot in the final.

It was Sabalenka’s third win over Ostapenko in as many meetings and came one round after she saved three match points gutting out a gritty 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(7) win over two-time Rome champion Elina Svitolina in a punishing battle that ended after midnight.

Today, Sabalenka spread the court with her kick serve and smacked first strikes with confidence. Facing a dangerous returner, Sabalenka served 75 percent, won 30 of 35 first-serve points and did not face a break point improving her 2024 record to 24-6.

“I mean definitely I put a lot of resilience here,” Sabalenka said. “I mean if you ask me how difficult the last couple of weeks have been for me, I would say it was really tough weeks.

“I had whatever you could imagine—illness, injury, a struggle with my game here—but I mean with this amazing atmosphere, with this amazing support, that’s why I’m super motivated here. This is why this is the dream tournament for me to win. I love you Rome. I love you.”

Rome fans are loving a blockbuster semifinal slate.

Two-time Madrid champion Sabalenka, who lost her crown to world No. 1 Iga Swiatek in a classic Mutua Madrid Open final earlier this month, joins Swiatek and world No. 3 Coco Gauff in the Rome semifinals.

The top-seeded Swiatek and US Open champion Gauff will square off in one semifinal that’s a rematch of the 2022 Roland Garros final.

This tournament marks the first time that the WTA World No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 have advanced to the semifinals of a WTA 250 event or higher—-excluding the WTA Finals—since the 2013 Roland Garros.

It’s the first time since the 2013 Doha and just the second time overall a WTA 1000 semifinal features the world’s top three-ranked women. It’s the first time the world’s top two-ranked women have reached successive semifinals at WTA 1000 events since 2013 Miami and Madrid.

In a clash of Grand Slam champions, Sabalenka’s superior serving, quicker movement and skill striking on the run were all keys. Sabalenka Commanding the center of the court, Sabalenka showed her depth and variety—sometimes mixing in drop shots and angled slices—to unsettle the 2017 French Open champion.

A resilient Sabalenka said she’s keeping it simple by going back to basics in her approach to dirt. Sabalenka said her main through process today: Win every point if you can.

“I really enjoy playing here,” Sabalenka said. “I guess I don’t have to think about being focused and put everything together in this last moments.

“I’m just trying to do everything I can to win every point I play regardless of the score and I guess that’s the key.”

Devoted risk-taker Ostapenko loves landing the lines.

In the opening game, the Latvian erased two break points, including scalding a forehand off the line that Sabalenka saw slightly wide, for a hard-fought hold.

In the third game, Ostapenko was up 40-15, but Sabalenka was nearly straddling the baseline as she won a backhand-to-backhand battle for the first break and a 2-1 lead.

Two-time Australian Open champion Sabalenka is skilled at stretching her lead and did exactly that in the first set today.

Threatening Ostapenko’s serve again, Sabalenka was controlling her power with more precision dotting the corners with more clarity. Sabalenka was stalking the Latvian’s second serve and made her pay for missed first serves. Sabalenka won another backhand exchange breaking for 4-1.

Spreading the court with the wide serve, Sabalenka slid a forehand winner down the line holding for her fifth consecutive game and a 5-1 lead after 29 minutes.

Desperate to hold, Ostapenko slammed an ace down the T to seal a love hold in the seventh game.

Serving for the set, Sabalenka paused as a gust of wind whipped up some red dust into her eyes. Then she reset and hammered a forehand crosscourt for set points. Sabalenka served out the 35-minute opener with command.

Both women respect each other’s damaging return games so both served to a high percentage in the opener—Ostapenko 81 percent and Sabalenka 71 percent—the big difference was the second seed destroyed the former French Open champion’s second serve. Sabalenka won six of seven points played on Ostapenko’s second serve.

In the second set, Ostapenko plowed through a powerful love hold for a 2-1 edge.

The 2023 semifinalist Ostapenko crushed a forehand drive volley that helped her hold at 15 for a 3-2 lead.

When Sabalenka got a good look at a second serve she was ripping returns with volatile intentions. Sabalenka rattled out a cluster of errors breaking again for a 4-3 second-set lead.

The US Open finalist leaned low to belt a backhand winner behind Ostapenko confirming the break for 5-3 just 30 minutes into the second set.

Serving for the semifinal, Sabalenka scalded a backhand winner down the line for match point.

When Ostapenko failed to clear the net, Sabalenka was through in one hour and 13 minutes.


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