Friday, September 29, 2023

Aryna Sabalenka downs Elina Svitolina to reach French Open semis

Sabalenka 1
Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka reacts during her quarter final match against Ukraine's Elina Svitolina

Paris, June 6: In a highly anticipated match at the French Open, world number two Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus powered past Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-4 on Tuesday, securing her place in the semi-finals in Paris.
The clash between these two talented players held intrigue, particularly due to Svitolina’s decision not to shake hands with players from Russia or Belarus following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last year, which Ukraine refers to as a ‘special military operation’.
Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion, had attracted attention recently by refusing to engage with the media after her last two matches. She faced extensive questioning regarding the war and her country’s involvement as a staging ground for Russian troops.
However, on Court Philippe Chatrier, Sabalenka displayed a focused and determined approach, swiftly advancing through the quarter-finals in straight sets. Despite committing 37 unforced errors during the match, compared to Svitolina’s 12, Sabalenka’s strong performance enabled her to claim victory.
Sabalenka’s next opponent in the semi-finals will be Czech player Karolina Muchova. Tennis enthusiasts eagerly await the outcome of this upcoming match as the French Open progresses.
“She’s a tough opponent, she moves very well,” Sabalenka said of her challenging start to the game. “What she did after giving birth is impressive I have respect for her.
“I’m happy with the win and the atmosphere,” the Belarusian added. “We all know you are waiting for Novak (Djokovic who plays next) but I’ll take it as if it’s for me.”
With several Ukrainian flags unfurled in the half-empty stands, the pair traded blows at the start with neither managing to carve out a break point in the first eight games.
But favourite Sabalenka, aiming for the world number one spot with a title win in Paris, grabbed the key break and then served out the first set a little later, with her opponent looping a backhand wide.
Svitolina broke for 2-0 in the second set as Sabalenka hit her 23rd unforced error but the Ukrainian was still on the back foot in most points and allowed her opponent to pull the break back when she netted a backhand.
Sabalenka continued her demolition job, breaking again for 3-2 with a forehand winner.
Svitolina stayed afloat thanks to her opponent’s unforced errors, but the outcome was always in the Belarusian’s hands.
Sabalenka ended it on the second match point with yet another forehand winner and boos were heard from the stands as Svitolina walked straight to her bench without shaking hands, while Sabalenka waited at the net.
Karolina Muchova pummels Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to book French Open semi-final spot
Karolina Muchova halted former French Open runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s impressive comeback by securing a 7-5, 6-2 triumph on Tuesday, propelling her to the semi-finals of Roland Garros for the very first time in her career.
In the upcoming semi-final clash, Muchova, representing the Czech Republic, will face Aryna Sabalenka, the second seed from Belarus.
Sabalenka defeated Ukrainian former world number three Elina Svitolina in straight sets in the other quarter-final later in the day.
“I don’t know what to say, it’s been an incredible two weeks and I’m glad I’m still in the competition,” Muchova said.
“I will for sure watch the match (between Sabalenka and Svitolina), I’m not sure if I will watch it live but I’m sure it will be another great match in two days.”
Muchova has largely flown under the radar in Paris this year after she stunned eighth seed Maria Sakkari in the opening round and the unseeded 26-year-old began brightly in front of a sparse Court Philippe Chatrier crowd with an early break.
But Pavlyuchenkova, who has fallen to 333 in the world after a knee injury kept her out of action for seven months last year, stayed within touching distance with a tight hold and sprung to life in the next game to draw level at 3-3.
After the pair exchanged breaks again, Muchova pinned her 31-year-old Russian opponent back with some deep groundstrokes to bag the opening set without fuss and made early inroads in the next as Pavlyuchenkova faded under the midday sun.
Muchova appeared more comfortable in the second set and built a commanding 5-1 lead before Pavlyuchenkova showed some signs of resistance.
But there was no comeback on the cards as Muchova closed out the match on serve, celebrating the victory when Pavlyuchenkova fired a shot wide.
(ToI With Reuters inputs)