Sabalenka surges home to reach Madrid final

REIGNING Madrid Open WTA 1000 champion Aryna Sabalenka came back from a disappointing first set to run over the top of Elena Rybakina in an epic three-set semi-final match. Sabalenka lost the first set 6-1 and was a break down in the second before finding a way to come back and close out the contest in a third set tiebreaker, 1-6 7-5 7-6.

Two of the best in the world traded blows in an entertaining contest, but it was Wimbledon champion Rybakina who struck early, storming to a 6-1 lead after winning 18 of 24 points off her serve and saving the only break point she faced. By comparison, Sabalenka struggled, with just six points won her serve and was broken twice in a one-sided opening set.

Rybakina continued that form to go be serving for a 5-3 lead in the second, except Sabalenka broke back to level it, and won four of the next five games to take out the second set 7-5. The serving dominance turned around as Sabalenka won 21 of 30 from her serve, and capitalised off Rybakina’s 41 per cent second serve success rate.

Fittingly the deciding set saw both players win their first five service games to ensure it was going the distance. Rybakina again had break point opportunities in the 11th game before Sabalenka held firmly, and the Kazakh had to do the same. The tiebreak went down to the wire as well, before the world number two managed to close it out by two points and win, 1-6 7-5 7-6 in two hours and 17 minutes to move one victory away from defending her 2023 crown.

Sabalenka finished with 35 winners to Rybakina’s 31, while having the six additional unforced errors (29-23). While the Kazkah had won her last 12 matches that went to three sets, Sabalenka made it six on the trot under the same condition against Rybakina in their head-to-head.

In the other semi-final, world number one Iga Swiatek had an easier time against American Madison Keys, needing just 70 minutes to claim victory with a 6-1 6-3 triumph. Swiatek won 69 and 79 per cent of her first and second serve points, and saved all three break points she faced in the process.

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